Category Archives: Confidence building

Personal branding: 5 tips for women

Snow boarding is a learned skill

At the risk of being shot down in flames I don’t think that a reluctance to self promote is always and exclusively a gender issue. I know as many men who struggle as badly with framing their success stories and articulating them as women. I also come across any number of women who will self-promote at the drop of a Philip Treacy.

What I have observed over time is that once men have understood what they need to do and the process, they do become more at ease and adept with simply presenting the facts and adopting strong and appropriate vocabulary to present themselves in the best possible light. Why? Because they know their content will be well received by a primarily male audience.

Women on the other hand who do the same,  feel and fear they will be judged more harshly than the men,  because gender stereotypical expectations suggest that they should be more retiring and modest, as well as being more communally orientated than self-centred.  So personal branding is counter- intuitive for many women.

Stand out!
According to Connie Glaser, author and women’s leadership expert, societal expectations for female behavior promote modesty and collaboration,  but these characteristics don’t necessarily lead to professional advancement. This requires actions closely associated with  standing out from the crowd  rather than  blending in,  by being able to identify, articulate and promote our USPs.

We know that women are competitive and are more than willing to be highly visible in all sorts of other arenas  (homes, husbands, kids, recipes, gardens,  b.m.i.). But how can women overcome this reluctance to self promote professionally and develop a badly needed personal brand,  which for many doesn’t come naturally?

Snow boarding is a learned skill.  So are driving and dancing. But women do learn how to do all three.

Tasteful  self – promotion
 

It’s not necessary to stand on a soap box proclaiming brilliance to the world.  Women can do some or all of the following to promote their success stories:

  • Self-insight :  Women need to be able to identify, recall and articulate those successes, both on demand and even when not requested. There are no short cuts.
  • Use powerful vocabulary: there is no need to appear boastful. If you ran a team of 100, or closed a deal worth several million  – simply say that. It’s not necessary to embellish by telling people what a great sales person  or manager you are – that will now be evident. Powerful action words such as led, ran, created, drove, initiated, generated, leveraged should feature regularly in  self evaluations.
  • Harness modern technology :   women are great at building relationships and should leverage these to generate recommendations for their  LinkedIn profiles, creating websites showing testimonials and  by keeping copies of any complimentary emails and performance reviews for future  use.
  • Accept praise and compliments graciously: bite your lip on lines such as “it was nothing ” or  “it was a team effort” or ” I got lucky“. It is OK to say “I worked really hard and am very proud of the result.”   Don’t forget we create our own luck.
  • Create a  strategic network.   Extending brand reach by widening your reputation. Set up a professional profile ona platforms such as LinkedIn, Xing or Viadeo.  Tap into your Facebook network for professional purposes as well as social relationships.  Being known as a strong resource will be always be helpful.   Find people to support, sponsor and mentor you,  not just to chat to! Return the favour.  Let people around you know what your goals are and that you are ambitious.

Women also have to be prepared to ask for support. They seek specialist advice from others in every area imaginable: physical fitness,  snowboarding, their nails, health issues, styling, children  and marriage guidance, but place far less emphasis on professional support.

This is an additional barrier which needs tackling .

Job search: Are you missing in action?

Off the radar

Getting on the job search radar!
I have spent the past week with two different women, of two different ages. Their backgrounds could not be further apart. One is a young graduate, seeking entry-level employment, the other a woman in her 40s, with extensive supply chain and procurement experience, as well as an MBA. She has taken an eight year parenting break, relocated internationally with her husband and is now dealing with the inevitable challenge of explaining motherhood and her CV gap.

Both want to enter the workplace. Both are struggling. Both are drifting off the job search track and are M.I.A. Despite feeling they had nothing in common, even just idle chat reveals the numerous common elements. Not only were they simply failing to get the jobs they wanted ( when they could even find a job they were interested in) they were receiving no response to their CVs, sometimes not even a rejection letter.

Back on track
All job search candidates regardless of age, gender or time in life need to have some basics in place, so here are some easy tips to get back on track:

  •  Identify and articulate transferable skills. It doesn’t matter how you do this but this is a critical exercise, taking time and thought. I repeat my mantra – if you don’t know what you’re good at, how do you expect anyone else to know? Recruiters and hiring managers are not telepathic and don’t have the time to drag it out of you.
  •  This basic but critical exercise leads to the creation of an effective mission statement and elevator sounds bites. CVs should stop disappearing into cyber space and interview performance will be strengthened. If there is any hesitation in delivering your USPs – practise and practise again!
  •   Establish and develop a professional online presence. This is vital for anyone, male or female, young or old, entry-level or transitioning. Failure to do this is tantamount to professional suicide. The entry-level woman had received no advice from her university careers advisor to create this type of profile, which in my view is a scandal in itself! Careers advisors – read my open letter! The older candidate needs to resurrect and tap into her existing network from her days as a professional woman and connect with them virtually on platforms which simply did not exist when she was in the workplace ( LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +) This small step shows you care about your professional image and that you are current in your approach. Your LinkedIn profile url can also be used in an email signature or on other online profiles as a way of extending the reach of your CV.
  •  Create a modern CV with targeted keyword usage. Their current versions are probably not getting past ATS ( Applicant Tracking Systems) or coming to the attention of recruitment sourcers. 97% of CVs, it is maintained, are not read by a human eye! Once again this could account for a failure to obtain an even a first interview.
  •  Most jobs (estimated at 85%) are not advertised. Creating a strong online presence and strengthening a personal brand will drive traffic to your professional profile. It’s no longer about looking for a job – it’s also about raising visibility to ensure you are found. Many jobs are also only advertised on LinkedIn.
  •  There is no substitute for strategic networking at any age and stage. No matter how young you are, or how long it’s been since you were in the workplace, we are all connected to someone! Have some simple, but good quality business cards printed – you never know when you need them! Connect and re-connect. Join networking groups and professional bodies especially if any membership has lapsed during a career break.
  •  Be active. Inactivity is not just a barrier to getting top jobs, it’s a barrier to getting any job! It’s also a great way to beat negative thinking, and maintaining your confidence, vital in job search. It also gives you data to monitor, from which you can make any changes to your job seeking strategy.
  •   Tweak those strategies . Don’t panic and especially don’t be afraid to change. Nothing is set in stone and what works in one set of circumstances may sink like a lead balloon in another! Be flexible

But most importantly never give up. The estimated time to get a job is reported to be on average a minimum of 7 months currently. If you carry on struggling – seek professional help. It will be worth it in the long-term!

Good luck!

Moving on from bullying: leave a legacy


This post was orignally a guest post for Ann Lewis author of “Recover your balance: How to bounce back from bad times at work”

Take a stand
In my research for my series on the bullying of women in the work place by women, I was contacted by a huge number of women and somewhat surprisingly men too. Most of this communication was private.

Two messages
This sent me two messages: the first was that bullying is still a shame based experience leaving many unable to openly admit that it had happened. The other was that individuals who had been targets, even years later, went to considerable lengths not only to protect the identity of the perpetrators, but also the organisations where they worked. In many cases little or nothing had been done to support them. In essence, the bullied had become part of an enabling process which allowed repeat offenders to continue abusive behaviour.

Could I say they these victims had moved on?
No, not really. Many had simply resigned and left organisational life to become corporate refugees by working freelance or starting their own business. Some went onto be bullied in subsequent jobs. Others had abandoned their careers totally. Most were scarred, still bewildered and angry. Many had had such horrific experiences, which in my naivety I had previously only associated with movie story lines.

Premeditated sabotage strategies aside, on a daily basis many accused bullies (especially women) have no idea that their behaviour is perceived as « bullying « and are quite shocked or even distressed when finally challenged. So it seems that the bullying process can be viewed as a breakdown, or absence of, constructive communication, with each party needing to assume responsibility for their own role in the dysfunctional dynamic.

Tri-partite responsibility
• The responsibility of the “ target” is to communicate his/her perception of the situation and follow through as required . Failure to do this can mean staying stuck in a negative position, which is tantamount to handing over personal power to both the bully and the organisation.
• The responsibility of the bully is to change his/her behaviour and communication style to acceptable norms.
• The responsibility of the organisation is to ensure that it is carried out.

What would I suggest to anyone who feels that they are being bullied?

• Research corporate and sector guidelines. Most countries have no legislation to deal with bullying, although that is changing. Benchmark your experience against those checklists.
• Seek professional help early in the process. This is good investment. You are experiencing a trauma! If you were suffering a wound to your leg, would you try and treat it yourself? No! You’d see a doctor!
• Work on strategies to self advocate and heal. Focus on becoming “unstuck” and taking responsibility for retreiving your own position .
• In tandem set up an audit trail of abusive treatment. Document and note each incident. This will be useful in any internal inquires or even eventual legal action.
• Find a mentor. Someone who can support and validate you professionally.

Strategic challenge
Walking away from a bad experience maybe sufficient for some to heal and I agree that in a number of instances, “letting go” will do it. However, the individuals who seemed be in the best place, were the very few who had found the courage to challenge the bully in a constructive and strategic way, as well as tenaciously dealing with the organisations where the bullying had occurred, even to the point of legal action.

Cultural contribution
This is not about revenge, although I’m sure for some individuals that might play a satisfying part. Stepping up in this way is also about contributing to the cultural change of what is acceptable workplace behaviour. It will raise public awareness to prevent the same thing happening to others. This transparency also obliges organisations to enforce (rather than pay lip service to) workplace protocols instead of intervening only when the bottom line is negatively impacted. Think of the significant advances that have happened over the last 40 years in the areas of discrimination against women, minorities or the physically impaired. This has been the cumulative result of individual as well as group action.

So somehow, and easier said than done I know, the targets of bullying need to dig deep to find the courage to step up and take a stand, not just for their own recovery, but for the protection of our future working environments. To quote Martin Luther King “Justice denied anywhere, diminishes justice everywhere

That is when personal moving on also leaves a legacy.

What do you think?

Makeup: A career issue for both men and women!

How makeup is impacting the workplace
I was facilitating a meeting in Paris last week and one delegate asked about women, makeup and career advancement. There wasn’t time to go into it in detail – but we were obviously in France where the grooming benchmark is particularly high. As I was still recovering from surgery and leading the meeting on one crutch (not the height of chic) and struggling to stay on my high heels, I possibly may not have been a convincing fashionista. In fact had I not been wearing makeup, combined with my crutch, I suspect para medics might have been put on alert.

Visual world
There is much research to suggest that basic looks, appearance and grooming lead to more rapid promotions and higher salaries. We live in a visual world where appearances matter. However, just to focus on one tiny aspect of the lookism and appearance issue, is the application of makeup that critical to career success? There is strong empirical evidence to suggest there is a connection for women.


Make up = making an effort
In fact,a recent survey, commissioned by The Aziz Corporation, reveals new information about appearance in the workplace. A survey reported in The Times also suggests that 64 per cent of directors considered women who wore make-up look more professional and 18 per cent of directors said that women who do not wear make-up “look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort”. As a career coach I would advise any woman to focus on overall professional grooming and that would include sector appropriate make-up. In a general professional sense all women are advised to wear light make up. A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetics Science in 2006 on Caucasian women has found that people judge women wearing cosmetics as higher earners with more prestigious jobs

Claire Soper an Image Consultant based in Brussels told me ” Without doubt make-up is part of your professional dress and is as important as your outfit. It must be appropriate and well applied and if you wear none, you look under dressed. A well-groomed look sends a positive message about who you, your capabilities and potential. Think about how you are perceived if you wear none? Believe it or not you could be sending signals that you are disorganized, uninterested and unable to cope and you need to be aware of this. We can control the way we look but not how people perceive us and our professional dress, the impact our image makes has a massive impact on our chances of promotion and career advancement. Know that internal career progression is based 50% on image!”

According to the Mail Online, the average British woman spends £9000 in a lifetime on makeup. Given that women are the greatest global consumer group, I’m assuming the minute they start feeling OK with their faces, bodies and general appearances whole industry sectors would simply disappear. It would seem that there are certain economic imperatives for us all to feel insecure about our appearance and therefore spend huge sums striving for improvement.

However in light of Josef Ackmerman’s CEO of Deutsche Bank’s suggestion that women would  “add colour to the boardroom“, a major faux pas, how and where do we we start overturning traditional stereotypes? Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Member of the European Party retorted pretty promptly “If Mr Ackermann wants more color in the management board, he should hang pictures on the wall.”

Claire adds “If you look capable, motivated and interested you stand a better chance of getting the promotion. It’s about releasing your potential. Many people’s careers are blocked simply because of the way they dress and women in particular, can gain authority and credibility by wearing make-up so they are perceived as somebody worth listening to.

The male view
Further research from The Aziz Corporation would indicate that men are also changing their perceptions about personal grooming. According to a study a carried out by Opinion Research, cited in the Mail Online – there is a sharp rise in male attention to makeup, with 20% admitting to wearing it to work.

William, a Senior Partner in an international law firm told me ” we live in such a “lookist” society that of course I use men’s grooming products. Men have to make sure their grooming assistance is not obvious. Women are actually lucky in this area because they can hide and enhance certain aspects of their appearance with makeup. At one time men as they got older, were deemed distinguished and women were simply “older”. Now it’s changing. If a man obviously wore make-up, it would probably be professional suicide. Most of the well-groomed women I know in their 50s, look way better than their male counterparts. An increasingly number of men in my circle have had cosmetic surgery to maintain a more youthful appearance, because they see it as a professional advantage .” Nip/tucking does indeed seem a bit drastic, when a quick dab of YSL Touche Eclat might do the trick. Guys – here’s how!

So I wondered, thinking that through, is it really better to be in a lower earning junior position, looking younger, wearing full make-up , than being a senior partner, on a great salary, looking his age? “That’s the irony” said Tom ” women are penalised for not wearing make-up and men would be penalised for doing so

So is it time to let go of our stereotypes and if women want to go to work without their “faces” and men want to head for the cosmetic counter, or will light makeup eventually be recommended for both sexes to enhance career prospects? Should any of it make a difference to the way we’re perceived in the workplace?

What do you think?

Trapped! Women and the smiling myth


Or why does no one write books about men not smiling enough?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post “10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers“. It sparked some heated discussion. The 10 ways were lifted somewhat unceremoniously by Citibank’s Diversity Department, from the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel (sales of 27 million) and converted into dubious “bumper sticker” phrases to support women in the organisation (+/- 330.000 employees globally).

One seemed to attract more attention and curiosity than the others – women seemingly sabotage their careers by smiling inappropriately. This I thought merited closer inspection, because that’s a helluva lot of women believing they smile at the wrong time in the workplace. But what constitutes inappropriate?

Some basics
A spontaneous smile is defined as ” a facial expression formed by flexing those muscles most notably near both ends of the mouth. The smile can also be found around the eyes ..” known as the Duchenne Smile. A smile is deep within our primate nature. It depicts positive social relationships and confirms anthropologically that no harm is intended. Combined with eye contact a smile is perceived to be the sign of a confident person, but most importantly, it suggests energy and vibrancy to the recipient. How can that be damaging?

Some research
According to Daniel McNeill, author of The Face: A Natural History, women are genetically built to smile in order to bond with infants. “Smiling is innate and appears in infants almost from birth….The first smiles appear two to twelve hours after birth and seem void of content. Infants simply issue them, and they help parents bond.”

Although women apparently smile more than men, this statistic changes when other variables are factored in: culture, ethnicity, age, or when people think they are being observed, according to the study funded by the National Science Foundation.

It would be interesting for social psychologists and anthropologists to look at these data because the wide cultural, ethnic and other differences suggest that the sex difference is not something that is hard-wired,” said Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology at Yale and senior author of the study published the journal psychological Bulletin. ” This is not a function of being male or female. Each culture overlays men and women with rules about appropriate behavior for men and women”

Minimal differences
The cultural variables were also interesting, with women in the United States and Canada smiling more than in other parts of the world, (England and Australia) African-American men and women smile equally, while there is indeed a gender difference amongst American Caucasians. They also noted that when occupying similar work, power and social roles, the gender differences in the rate of smiling disappears or is minimal. Here, LaFrance surmises that the sex differences are overridden by smile norms for the position one is in, rather than by gender.

Perceptions
As they rise up the career ladder, the rate at which women smile therefore is line with their male counterparts. This is why Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and any other senior professional woman would conduct themselves correctly! The converse then should presumably apply and men working in service roles should be motivated to crank up their own smile levels a notch or two. Speaking from personal experience, I would suggest some French waiters or male railway personnel (Platform 5, East Croydon to London Victoria) might be a good target market for any future books on the appropriateness of the male smile.

Assigned roles
Research also shows that the facial expressions of men when stressed become fearful and angry, while the incidence with women is less. So in male dominated stressful business environments are we just conditioned to expect this type of reaction from our leaders than anything else? Do we simply expect our leaders to look fierce? Perhaps this is the reason why according to Management Today trust in CEOS increases when a woman is in charge in difficult times.

Imprecise vocabulary
What sort of situations would therefore merit accusations of smiling inappropriately, or is it simply poor word choice? Delivering bad or sensitive news with a wide grin perhaps? Smiling when anxious, more accurately called grimacing. A sarcastic smile – known as a smirk? As women are recognised as having superior qualities of empathy, then the same research would suggest that they are actually less likely to react inappropriately. LaFrance says women are more likely to smile to defuse tension doing what she calls ” emotion work” – but as creativity tends to go out of the window when tension exists why is this negative?

Trap 1
Perhaps the smiling quotient (and herein lies the first trap) is related to the fact that women have traditionally carried out service functions and men have been assigned ” warrior” roles. Their smiles are therefore perceived (no matter what they are achieving) as being an indication of deference , and therefore self sabotaging, in leadership roles. This myth is now even being perpetuated by women themselves.

Trap 2
What is even more worrying that countless women now believe that in order to succeed they must modify a key and instinctive part of their behaviour to conform to male norms over and above what they do naturally as their careers progress up the male hierarchy. That will lead to that age-old fall back of course, the second gender trap: accusations of PMS in the corner office.

If there is to be any levelling out of smiling ratios, the next slew of books should perhaps focus on men smiling more.

What do you think?

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Motherhood and the CV Gap

 Wally Bock in Momentor says “Even with men taking paternity leave, women face a career challenge that few if any men will ever face. This one of those situations where there are no easy answers, only intelligent choices. Dorothy Dalton lays them out for you in what is the very best post I have ever seen on this topic.”

How to bridge the gap in your resume
One of the most frequently asked questions  that I am ever asked,  both as a recruiter and as a career coach,  is  about handling gaps in a CV caused by taking time out to raise a family. Response: there is no one magic wand answer. Or at least not one that I can think of.

Starting and raising a family is one of  the greatest challenges of  not just being a woman, but being a woman in the work place. We all handle it differently. There is no right or wrong way. Some return to work and balance  a career and professional demands with a variety of child care and support arrangements. Others decide to focus exclusively on their families for different lengths of time.

Experience
Both my kids are in their 20s and I can honestly say that I am familiar with many of the thought processes and situations that professional women go through when they have a family. I have probably experienced most combinations of childcare and work set-ups  imaginable: flexi-time, part-time, remote working, NOT working (aka ME) and  self-employment. I have been guilt tripped by pretty much everyone, including my kids and bosses in equal measure. My son is dyslexic and required  educational support when younger, but my business/family stress was finally reduced  when he discovered as a teenager,  that dyslexia is an anagram for “daily sex”. That helped with his learning difficulty more than anything I ever did.

Tough decisions
Becoming a full-time parent today is a luxury decision that few are able to make, but many still do. Very often for either economic reasons, or simply a desire to have a different purpose, many women choose to go back to work.

But frequently Rosanne Barr’s  one-liner  ” I can do anything. I’m a  mom”  doesn’t ring true for a large number.  It certainly doesn’t ring true for many employers.

Transferrable skills
Employers tend to want new hires to hit the ground running and are reluctant even to look at the transferrable skills from individuals who  come from another  business sector,  let alone anyone whose sector activity  has been running a home (hospitality, finance and facility management) school runs  (logistics) raising kids (team building, succession planning, change and conflict management, negotiation) supporting a partner (coaching, internal communication and external relations).

The soft skills that women possess in abundance, combined with the hands on managerial abilities ,  which are a prerequisite for running a family, should be easily transferrable into a business environment, particularly with some on boarding support. Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling or unable to see this. But equally many women don’t see it either. The years outside a corporate environment leave a large number feeling less than confident.

Strategic preparation
Some  career columnists recommend  adding a cover letter  of explanation as a returning Mum that you are now willing and able to re-join the work force.  Truthfully, that will no longer cut it.  That cover letter may not even make it past an ATS system. The pace of change in the recruitment sector has been so great that strategic preparation is important.

The earlier you start preparing a viable business case for your return to the market place the better. If you create a strategic plan before your offspring arrive on the scene, so much the better, but if not, just as soon as you can. You’ve heard of planned pregnancies? Well career planning is the same! It’s not enough to say  “Hey -ho, I’ve got a babysitter, I’m back”  and doors will swing open.  Whether the gap is 7 or 17 years the principles are the same.

  • Stay or get up to date in your profession. It’s not easy after spending a day dealing with the minutiae of every day family life to flick a switch and get into biz mode and read up on any developments  or trends in your now old profession but it’s worth it.  Cosmo  might be more appealing  than the Economist, or the packed lunches might be calling,  but try to allocate some time for your once professional self.  If you let this slide over the years , start getting up to speed quickly.
  •  Stay or get connected:  carry on if you possibly can with your professional networks. Subscriptions,  workshops and conferences can be pricey without corporate funding.  But there is still a lot of material  available on-line and social media networking is free. Sign up on LinkedIn  or any other professional site. LinkedIn has many different groups for mums –    over 26 pages when I just checked. There has to be something that suits you. If not create your own.   There are special groups on-line and in your own towns, specifically to support women in transition. Find yours and attend their events.
  • Stay or get in touch with old colleagues. They will give you the heads up on any opportunities.
  • Network –  any contacts you make in the course of your daily life may help.  Keep business cards, follow careers and stay in touch ( see above)
  • Consider working from home: is there anything you can do before you return to work to ease yourself gently into a business environment ?
  • Consider setting up your own business: Read my post Women who Make it Happen.  4, really normal  women recount their successful transition into entrepreneurship following periods raising their families. If they can do it –  so can you !
  •  Re – train  – this is a good opportunity to think about doing something different. What are your passions? What would you like to do with the rest of your life?  What are your skills? On- line courses make it easier to combine acquiring new skills with childcare and domestic responsibilities.
  • Invest in yourself – think long-term. Make your personal development ongoing.
  • Volunteer  – many women are very often involved in voluntary activities that rival any corporate activity. Fund raising , event management, PTA President, school or charity treasurer. Make sure that when you write your CV you include any metrics that support your efforts in terms of results and  processes. Raising  250K  for the new school library is a big deal and no different from meeting sales targets! Organising a gala garden party for your church with 600 people attending is no different to corporate event management.
  • Check your business image: if your wardrobe is full of office attire circa pre-motherhood –  a trip to the charity shop is essential. Nothing dates you more than looking out dated.

Even if you have done none of the above – it’s never too late to start.  As covered recently in Forbes , hiring managers are convinced by commitment , backed up by evidence that you can add value.  Their eyes will glaze over if the  only talk you can offer,  no matter how proudly,  is of raising your family.  Regrettably,   sometimes professional women can be  tougher than their male counterparts.

But occasionally wisdom comes from unexpected sources:  “ I’m a mother with two small children, so I don’t take as much crap as I used to.”  Pamela Anderson

So do you?

Women who make it happen

Start up success stories

Last week  in my piece  ” Ladies – it’s never too late to start up”  I wrote about a growing trend towards self employment  amongst  Baby Boomers and  the business success of the “grey economy”    However,  in Europe less than 30% of new businesses are established by women,  compared to 70% by their American counterparts . Yet I have talked to and coached many women who have done exactly that and found incredible satisfaction and success.

I’m not talking about super women who set up something on their kitchen tables  20 years ago and are now teetering around in power stilettos,  sporting designer suits and running massive empires from their iPhones .   No, the women I know are just regular women,  like you or I,  who for one reason or another  at a “certain age “,  when other people are thinking about retiring, decided they wanted to be self employed and made  it happen. They created their dream.  Besides, power stilettos kill their feet .

Backgrounds

Some had given up work to raise their kids and wanted to return to the work place,  others had been made redundant  after years of service.   Others  wanted to  leave the corporate world and do something different  that they felt passionate about and which gave them flexibility.  Some just simply wanted to change , but weren’t sure what to do.  Yet another group had retired,  but had an itch to do something more with their lives than go for lunch.  Some had concerns about long term financial security issues , and as pension funds lie in tatters, property prices plummet and divorce rates rise, this is completely valid.  

Themes

It seemed to be that the common threads from talking to them  all were: flexibility, control, purpose, passion,  financial security, commitment, personal development  and increased confidence.

Carol O’Donoghue, Jacksonville,  Florida, set up her own real estate company at the age of 47,  having just gone through a divorce.  She was a high school principal before she moved to Europe to support her now ex husband’s career.   Returning to the Jacksonville to be near her family, she was looking for something  more flexible  that she could do longer term.  Now she says “I am able to work from many different locations with the advances in technology, so I can go skiing in Colorado and sell 2 houses while I am gone!” 

 The start up process involved re –  training on the technical side  of real estate management ,  obtaining the required licenses and investing in some basic equipment and publicity material. 

Carol suggests that the greatest challenges were finding a work life balance and dealing with her own perfectionist tendencies!   “ I worked 7 days a week and often until 2am… I felt like I completely lost my personal life for the first few years.  ”

She then decided to relinquish some control and hire extra help, with immediate benefits.   Plans for the future? Carol just says ”  I want to enjoy the life I have left.  I am 55 this year and that has always been my goal …………I will  refer all of my business to another firm (for a fee)”

Meicki Schick, Brussels, Belgium, speaks 3 languages,  and at 48, is  as glamorous as any super model and has twice the energy of a woman half  her age. She is a walking bill board for her new business  as a Pilates Coach

 She decided to pursue this change of direction  because  she says   ” I had a constant feeling that to be only mother, house wife, taxi driver for my kids…was not enough to fill up my life.  “

 Meicki had originally trained as a pharmacist in Germany and had  considered going back into her old profession  but told me  “ an opportunity came last summer, when I saw the folder of a local academy that  carries out Pilates teacher trainings. My own Pilates coach  encouraged  me to follow this training and suggested I give lessons at her studio, especially she needed a French speaking coach for her Belgian clients. It took me one night to sleep over this proposition and than I decided to go for it.”

 After completing the training programme she started teaching her own classes and the excellent feedback she received motivated her even further.   She now has the flexibility to organise her own schedule and be active every day “  Sport  has always been part of my favorite activities. Now I get paid for it ! ”

  Her dream is to complete further training and eventually open her own Pilates Studio. She loves “working and  being active” and says this has helped her overall confidence.    

Jane W from the UK was musically trained,  but  fell into a marketing and communication role in her early career almost by chance. Even though she followed her husband’s career across 3 continents , wherever she was in the world she made sure she found a job.  “ I realised that I needed to do something for me, it helped me adapt to the change and kept me in touch with the business community. Very often I was involved in organising corporate events and also  volunteered at my kid’s school.   We had always entertained a lot at home and as I love food I decided to take a Cordon Bleu cookery course  ”      

Jane’s divorce left her economically vulnerable,  so it was imperative that she find something to protect her long term financial situation. “ I began helping  organise events, weddings , dinners and parties  in addition to doing the catering.  Before long I  was  involved professionally,  coordinating other freelancers.  I then moved  on to conferences, launches,  openings and so on.”

The future? “  I have one son still in school and as soon as he is finished I intend to expand. In the meantime I am doing some on-line marketing courses and am training as a florist.  For the moment I’m happy to stay small,  getting up in the morning knowing I’m going to be doing something I love

Her message?  “Never stop learning – you never know what’s around the corner”.

 Sacha Otten, from the Netherlands  set up her own company abovePAR last year ,  marketing  virtual assistant services.  Her mantra  echoes William McFee The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps cool!  But at  at the start of the recession,  it was a little risky to branch out on her own,  so she also combined this with holding down an 80% time job ,  on top of acquiring  skills and certification in internet research.  She felt that this would give her greater control over her own destiny and make her less vulnerable in the market place. Speaking 5 languages,  she offers project management, administration and research services internationally.  When Sacha heard recently that  her job was being cut as a result of the downturn  she was glad that she had this additional string to her bow. 

 “ When you own your own company, your age seems to matter a lot less than when you seek permanent employment. It can even be a huge advantage when you have reached a certain maturity and can also be very flexible in your work hours. I tend to think it is an asset rather than a handicap.  Clients seem to like this when they decide to outsource their work.’

Her greatest challenge was  the sales/marketing element .  “ Selling yourself and breaking into a market is  not a very easy thing to do. A lot depends on your personality.  Setting up your own company is definitely not for everyone. Your commitment needs to be high.”

So if you have passion, drive, energy and are looking for purpose,   want control of your own destiny,  financial situation and schedule    –  what is stopping you?

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