Remember your first job? I do – and it was character building!

Remember your first job? I do – and it was character building!

I had several ‘first’ jobs.  All character building when you are between the ages of 14 – 18.

I started cleaning for my Mum’s friend on a Saturday morning when I was about 14. It was the start of learning the discipline of turning up to work regularly and on time.  The home owners were heavy smokers. Even then I couldn’t stand the smell. Regardless of how many windows I opened, the smell lingered, and penetrated my clothes. Urgh. It was my first experience of cleaning other people’s toilets too. You only have to do it once, and your respect for those who do this for a living is immeasurable.

I also worked in an old people’s care home.  I was only 16 or 17 and found it way harder than expected.  I was involved in changing beds, washing and dressing clients, emptying commodes.  It was hard physical work, but it was worse witnessing the deterioration of the residents and it was my first experience of death (apart from my pets). I never forget the look in the eyes of the lady we had to turn because her bed sores were starting to rot, despite the regular change of dressings. She could no longer speak, but her eyes said everything you needed to know – sadness, humiliation, pain.

I also cleaned my school as a teenager. It was a role you could apply for once you had reached the 6th form (Year 12 & 13 these days). I remember it was good money at that age and I took pride in my work.  We were paid by cheque every two weeks.  A cheque? Teenagers now probably wouldn’t know what that is, would they?

Then there was the washing up in the kitchen of a small restaurant.  Kitchen’s get very hot.  I worked for the Gordon Ramsey of the 1980s.  He would get SO ANGRY when food wasn’t cooked correctly (bear in mind he was doing the cooking!), staff really had to stay out of his way. I remember fresh steaks – a luxury to my family – being slammed onto the floor because he’d slightly overcooked them.  Most of the time I had my hands in the sink of hot, soapy water, head down, trying to keep out of sight and out of range of his fury.

Then I spent one summer – well, one week – working at Royal Ascot.  In the kitchens.  That previous washing up job stood me in good stead, as there was plenty of it!  Although the women and men in the Royal Enclosure were dressed to the nines, there was no glamour down below stairs.  The waste of food was appalling. Being a naïve 18-year-old I had never witnessed such beautiful food being thrown away for seemingly no reason. Some people older than me, packed it in after 48 hours. I stuck it out until the end of the seven days.  It was not an experience I repeated .

All these ‘first jobs’ were character building and stood me in good stead for future employment.  I turned up on time, was able to follow instructions, not complain (at least not on the job), be diligent (those plates and glasses had to be sparkling clean. There was no automatic dishwasher back then!). Show empathy (with the elderly residents), good manners, kindness.  You forget how important these early working experiences shape you.

Interestingly, each job in it’s own way was people orientated – and that’s where my career has remained.

What did your first jobs teach you?


Step out of your Comfort Zone with Confidence

Step out of your Comfort Zone with Confidence

The dictionary definition of ‘comfort zone’ is as follows:

  • a situation where one feels safe or at ease.
  • a settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results.

The comfort zone is the easy path. There’s no difficulty involved in the familiar. It’s simple, straightforward, effortless.

Sometimes the comfort zone is a good thing. If your job is straightforward and generally requires little effort to carry it out successfully, but your personal life is in turmoil and chaos, then working in your comfort zone may be the best thing for you … at that moment. Occasionally, stability is the order of the day. This is positive.

However, many times we find ourselves in a comfort zone without even realising it. Life happens. You are doing a busy, demanding job, looking after elderly parents, taxiing children around, juggling fitness and family commitments. One day you stop and BANG. You find the comfort zone is well and truly established.

You feel bored, de-motivated, dull, unchallenged. Feel this for too long and you may start to doubt yourself and your own abilities. A slippery slope to low self-esteem, lack of confidence, even depression. This is the negative side of the comfort zone.

But why do we stay in our comfort zones? It’s because they are just that – comfortable. They’re like a blanket; keeping us warm and cosy. Except they’re not, are they? Not if you stay there for any length of time, as I have mentioned above.

The real sticking point for coming out of our comfort zone though is fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of being exposed, vulnerable and fear of failure. Fear of failure is particularly significant if you have had a bad experience in the past. No one wants to repeat a failure, do they? Nope. We need to try something different.

Below are seven suggestions for getting out of your comfort zone with confidence. Some are small steps, some are slightly bigger. I am sure there are more and would love to hear from you if you have others. Come and join me to continue the discussion in my private Facebook  group The Thinking Space.

  • MIX UP YOUR ROUTINE – go on give it a try. Do one small thing in your routine differently. How difficult was it to do it differently? What stopped you initially? How did you overcome that block and how did it make you feel once you had?
  • BRAINSTORM YOUR FEARS: what specifically is stopping you moving out of your comfort zone? Make a list of 3 – 5 ideas. What are you thinking when you see this list? Ask yourself for each point, IS THIS TRUE? IS IT REALLY TRUE? What do your answers tell you about your fears?
  • ARE YOU A PERFECTIONIST? You need to have everything perfect and in place before you can move on/do something different? Recognise that. Acknowledge it. Sit with it for a moment, then ask yourself, “what if my life or my job, right now, was good enough?” How would that make you feel to know that it was good enough?
  • CAREER STALLING? PROMOTIONS DRYING UP? Stop. Take stock. Look around you. What are successful colleagues doing to be promoted? What actions are they taking to make them visible to other people in your company. Which behaviours do you like? Could you adopt one behaviour yourself?
  • GET A MENTOR: this is someone you respect or admire but will share their experiences and problem-solving strategies with you. They’ll be objective about your career and what you might be able to do. A mentor is not a coach.
  • Say “yes” to something you’d normally say “no” to – volunteer at a school fete, agree to try a choir, do a sport you don’t normally like (this is for me – I don’t like swimming!)
  • Start a conversation with a stranger. Yes, really. Do it. Try it. You have no idea what the outcome might be – hearing a funny story, offering them a listening ear which might make their day. You never know what could happen unless you try it.

The bottom line is, whatever step you take, however small, it’s significant for getting you out of your comfort zone with confidence.

Good luck!

Stage fright & the importance of practice, practice, practice

Stage fright & the importance of practice, practice, practice

Sweaty palms?  Tightness in your chest?  Mind going blank?  If you hate presenting, this might all sound too familiar.  So familiar perhaps that you avoid doing presentations altogether.  Ouch. But avoiding the issue could be make or break for your career or that promotion you want. First of all, know this:  you are not alone.  Everyone experiences this – even the greatest public speakers do.  Don’t believe me?  Have a look at Steve Jobs and his first public TV interview. See how nervous and fidgety he is?  He’s not remembered like that now, is he?  So, how did he do it? In the course of researching this blog I conducted a totally unscientific survey of the members of my ATHENA network group & my followers on my Helen Foster Coaching Facebook page. The most common answers were:

  • The thought of it – the ‘unknown’
  • Mind going blank – “brain freeze”
  • Talking too quickly
  • Not being able to answer questions at the end

Scary stuff, but all very normal.  So, what do you do about it? I recently read a brilliant book by Carmine Gallo called “Talk like TED – The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds”.  There was great advice – be genuine, tell stories that capture the hearts & minds of your audience and timing: stick to the 18 minute rule! One crucial recommendation though was the importance of practice.  Practice.  Practice and Practice some more. The point of being scared about presentations – literally having stage fright – is that you have a fear of the unknown.  You can’t control the unknown and your instinct is to run away from it.  So, rather than focusing on that, focus on what you CAN control.  And what can you control?  You can control how much you practice. Practice is the key to everything I think.  Practice as often as you can, and then practice some more.  Gallo says that Steve Jobs used to spend hours and weeks preparing for a speech so that he eventually established himself as one of the most charismatic business leaders on the world stage.  But he only did this with practice. If you practice your presentation, you can only get more familiar with it. Get more familiar with it, and you’ll be more confident.  More confidence and self belief = better delivery. 

Think of ballet dancers – they don’t get to be so graceful by just “turning-up-on-the-night-and-winging-it”.  They practice…not for hours, or days or months – but years and years in order to become the professional creators of perfection we see on stage. If you don’t believe me, have a look at this fantastic short film from TEDEd Lessons worth sharing – The Science of Stage Fright.  At less than five minutes long, it may be the best few minutes of your day today. Finally, please have a look at an article featuring me on – How to be a better public speaker. Enjoy!

What are your values?

What are your values?

I ask this question as I’ve been asking it myself recently.  What are my current values, and have they changed since I started my working life? Well, yes they have.  They’ve changed as I’ve changed. But why are they important?  And how do you find out what they are? Discovering your values with a coach helps you understand why you do what you do and what you probably want to do or should be doing.  It helps you to learn what you like doing and, importantly, what you don’t like doing.  If your values and beliefs are in conflict with your environment, or the people you work with, you’ll find yourself experiencing discomfort, tension, stress even. And who wants to remain in that position? If you are feeling these emotions, then I bet you are wanting to ‘get out’ or ‘move on’, yes? How do I know this? It’s linked to my story and helped me to own my values to bring me to where I am now. In a nutshell, I learnt self awareness of what I wanted and what I did not want.

In my mid to late twenties I worked in the PR industry. I liked the work – writing, meeting clients, lunching in fabulous restaurants.  But I remember I always felt uncomfortable about some of the messages I was being asked to promote. I was uncomfortable because those messages didn’t ring true for me.  I didn’t understand at the time why this was, but I look back and it was because I didn’t believe in the messages. It didn’t feel genuine and by continuing to work in an environment where I wasn’t being true to myself led to unhappiness and ultimately a not particularly successful career in PR. By contrast, working for the BBC was much more successful and happy. I believed in what the BBC stood for.  I shared its values, as they were my own – independence, integrity, impartiality, truth, and accuracy to name but a few.  It made for a very positive, creative and exciting time in my career all because, I believe, my values were being met.

However, over time, people change and organisations change.  My job was moving with Radio 5live to Salford.  I wasn’t going to move as my family and support network were here in the Home Counties. It forced me to reassess my values. I decided I wanted to leave the BBC, I searched unsuccessfully at that time for an alternative position. However, I couldn’t find a company whose values were congruent to mine. This helped with the decision to work for myself. I worked with a coach to identify my new values.  One which had become so strong, I couldn’t ignore it was the need to help women to make a change and transform their lives.  This realisation started me on my path to becoming an Executive & Confidence coach. I job I love and thrive in.

If you’d like to identify what your values are in order to help you move forward, call me to find out how I can help you get to where you want to be – 07976 729 636.

My body language was saying “No…”, but my head was saying something entirely different: What your body language says about you.

My body language was saying “No…”, but my head was saying something entirely different: What your body language says about you.

I had my own coaching session recently. It was about my procrastination regarding completing some essays I need for a professional qualification. Quite frankly I am bored to tears listening to myself talk about this issue and actually didn’t want to “share” again, but I found myself volunteering to be coached, and there was no going back. The first question was “What do you want to talk about today” and I launched into my spiel about where I was with the essays, how I felt about them, etc. I talked without pausing for breath for several minutes. The second question the coach asked was about my body language. What was the hand clutching, mouth hiding (with my hands), folded arms and folded legs all about? I looked at her. What on earth was she talking about? What did she mean about my hands, the covering of my mouth? I honestly had no idea whatsoever that I was doing this. I was astonished. For a moment or two I was speechless. What had I been doing? And why? I was speaking about my problems with the essays. I was saying I wanted to do them, I was going to do them, but for reasons I couldn’t fathom, I was failing to get started. So there was some positivity with the essays. My body language was saying “I don’t want to do these essays. If I cover my mouth, stroke my chin, fold my arms, clench my hands together, pick my fingers, perhaps it’ll all go away.”

This was not the point I was trying to get across, but it was very, very revealing about where I was subconsciously. As the coaching session went on, we explored what it was like to open my arms, palms upwards. I felt some internal resistance and discomfort in doing this. Something inside me, didn’t want to do it. We pressed on though, observing how I was feeling. I admitted the essays are like an albatross around my neck and described “the albatross” not as a bird but as a round stone with a whole in the middle, held round my neck with a chain. All down the left side of my body. Interestingly, the left side of my body is where I have a continually painful and tense shoulder. Could it be that I was carrying my anxiety on this side of my body? I had an “Ah Ha” moment: the pain in my shoulder returned when I’d given myself a deadline to complete the essays.

As we kept talking, I kept my arms open and my palms up facing the ceiling, and the tension in my shoulder started to ease. My body language was, by now, much more open. By the time I returned home, the pain I usually have in the top of my left arm – like a deep bruise – had dissipated. When I touched it, it simply felt as if I was pinching myself rather than touching a bruise. The point of telling you this is this: my body language was revealing my deepest feelings, but I was unconsciously doing it. I had no idea that I was giving of a message of “holding in” or “not letting go”. So much of our body language happens without us being aware of it. It’s generally agreed that when we walk into a room or make a presentation, it’s our body language and what we look like that has the most impact – not what we have to say. How intensely frustrating is that, when we work so hard on the content of what we have to say! So it might be an idea, after reading this blog to have a little think about your body language. What do you notice about it? What is it saying about you?

And is the message you’re giving, through your body language, the one you actually want to give?  

Setting realistic goals to achieve amazing results

Setting realistic goals to achieve amazing results

I’ve started running again.  Regularly.  I can say this publicly now as I started before Christmas and I’m still doing it. It’s not a New Year resolution and in fact, I’m up to twice a week.   Not bad for a 52 year old, not-very- fit mum of two.

Why should you care about this?  Well, I only mention it because I’m undoing an old habit (no exercise) and establishing a new one (some exercise).  Very slowly.  And I thought you might be interested in how I’m doing.

I’ve taken small steps and not made too much of a big thing about it.  The point is, I’m working to create this new habit in a way that’s easy for me to maintain.  Which, in time, will lead to success.

What I’ve found previously is that I’ve set myself up to fail by making my goals so big, or the changes so huge that I couldn’t help but not achieve them. Does this sound familiar?

Not this time though.  This time, I set out with a different mind-set.  My thinking was all about needing to release stress and to get healthier. It wasn’t about doing as much as possible in a short a space of time.  Or losing weight by doing loads of exercise.

What’s happened in the past is this:  usually I go a bit mad.  I do exercise like a whirling dervish 10 days out of seven (yes, you read that correctly) and then end up being so exhausted, I do nothing at all. Ever again.  For six months.  How pointless is that?

I am not a gym bunny.  No matter how often I re-join my local gym, I just don’t go.  And what I realised was, as a home worker, I need to be around people. Going to the gym or even a class wasn’t helping me to stop feeling lonely or isolated.

Then I bumped into my friend Mandy.  What a fantastic moment that was.  “Come running with my running group.”  She said enthusiastically.  “Mmmm,” I mumbled, shuffling away trying to think of reasons not to do it.

But then a few weeks before Christmas, I found myself running round some bollards in a boggy field warming up for my first run in ….errrrr…let’s just say it was a while, shall we?

What I loved about the experience was a) it was outdoors, b) I was meeting people and c) I had a running coach.

The running coach Helen was encouraging but also realistic.  She knew I wanted to get fitter, but trying to do a 5km Park Run every week, with no training in between, wasn’t really getting me anywhere.  And she was right.

She actively discouraged me from going back to Park Run for the time being. “Let’s get you running for 30 minutes straight before you go back to that,” she suggested.  What a relief!  I had permission from her to NOT do something, and thus I gave myself permission not to do it either. Happy days.

My experience is similar to that which clients have when they have a personal or executive coaching programme with me. I help you identify the habit(s) you want to change, work out a time frame for changing it/them, then support you to identify how you might sabotage yourself so that you fail to achieve your goal. We work together to work out how you will recognise the self-sabotage, and develop strategies for overcoming the self-sabotage voice. So, in my case, I sabotage myself by doing too much, too soon, too fast.  And then stopping altogether.

This time it’s different.  I’m listening carefully, not only to my coach, but my body.  I’m being kinder to myself and as a result I’m really enjoying myself.  I feel better and already people are saying “You’re looking well.”

Have you had any similar experiences where you’ve set your goal too high and then found, when changing it, making it more manageable, you are able to achieve it more successfully? I’d love to know.  Do drop me an email.