Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Reflections on a midlife career junction

 "You should do this course," a new friend told me as I explained why I was currently signing on and dropping out. I had left my job in a haze of burnout and a deepening sense that I was no longer on the correct life path. But what was the right path? I no longer felt like I knew where I even wanted to go, and if I didn't know that - how could I move forward? I was stuck at a crossroads with no signposts. 

"Yeah, maybe..." I replied uncommitted, and filed it away somewhere in my subconscious. 

The Past

I took the summer off to write, breathe, and reset. I would start worrying about next steps when the kids went back to school. And what a joy that was. As soon as I logged out of my work accounts, I felt immediate relief and a surge of happiness. But what came next was almost more important. Over the summer I lost the cynicism that had recently taken hold of me. I reconnected with friends and family, spent quality time with my mother whose door I had been racing in and out of for months, travelled to London to visit my sister, went on a family holiday, swam, read, walked and reconnected with contentment and a love of life. 

In short - I was given the gift of time to come back to myself. 

And then September crept in and I realised I needed to find work. But where to start? I trawled employment websites and LinkedIn. I paid for a career consultant workshop. I asked anyone and everyone for advice. And I made an appointment with an Adult Career Guidance specialist through the unemployment office. 

I thought I was doing a box-ticking exercise, but the session was more like therapy. She asked difficult questions and made suggestions I hadn't contemplated. I still didn't know what I wanted, but she gave me things to think about. 

"I'm thinking of doing this course.." I said at the end. Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at the Innovation Academy in UCD. It was the same course my friend had mentioned months ago. 

"Good choice," she said. "I was looking at that one myself".

And so I sent through my application. If I got accepted I would do it. And if I didn't then so what? No big loss. 

Little did I know how untrue that was!

The Present

I started the course the next month. A Level 9 packed into three months of intensive hands-on projects. 

Within the first week, I was lying on the cold grass in my garden in a floral dress with flowers scattered over me, directing an unamused teen to take photos of me as I recreated a famous painting to send in to the class. 

I had not been expecting this. 

My class was made up of just over thirty unique and interesting people - each with one thing in common - we were at a junction in our lives and we were looking for direction. There were young professionals who had fled the war in the Ukraine, there were techy start up founders, there were film directors and medical professionals. Every industry, age and personality represented in a wonderful mix of diversity and humanity. 

Over the next three months we threw ourselves into the challenge, opened ourselves up, and bonded into a formidable tribe. We learned by doing. Design Thinking, Leadership, Teamwork, Business - so much packed into sometimes wonderful, sometimes frustrating, but always inspirational days. 

I grew in confidence, learning that I had valuable skills to offer. I wasn't trapped anymore. If I couldn't find a job I wanted, then I could create one. The power of entrepreneurship. 

From that moment, I applied only for roles that I knew were aligned with my core values and loves. 

When I got an interview for a Writer in Residence position at a prestigious university I thought this was it. This was the one I had been waiting for. I spent all weekend prepping for it. I reached out to other people who worked there to get information about the interview process. I talked to other people with the same role in different universities to get a feel for the position. I wrote out and recited answers to every conceivable question I could think of. I did practice interviews with myself on zoom and then with one of my classmates. I was ready for this. 

The interview went well and I crossed my fingers and toes, checking email updates multiple times daily. And then it came. We're sorry, you were not successful. 

The feelings of not being good enough crept in. It hurt. I licked my wounds for the rest of the day, came to terms with it, and by the next morning had put it behind me. There were lots of positives to take from the experience. Not least how willing people had been to help me. 

The Future

Hot on the heels of this news came two more job applications. The first for an NGO with a fantastic remit and a job description that fit like a glove. The second - a contract with the biggest publisher on the planet. I threw my hat in the ring for both and got two interviews. 

The preparation this time round was easier. I knew the ropes. Again, I gathered help where I needed it - a valuable lesson that I had learned was that I didn't have to do everything alone. And again - everyone I reached out to couldn't have been more supportive. 

A second interview for one and a job offer for the other quickly followed. Suddenly I had options. Not only were two jobs potentially on the table - I had my own business idea formed from my course and ready to progress. 

I thought and talked and walked and wondered, and then accepted the offer that was on the table. It wasn't forever, but this 6-month contract would give me new skills, open doors and fill my soul. 

Over the past months the fear of the future had magically dissipated, and my decision felt right. 

I start as Publicity Manager with Penguin Random House in January, just after my course completes. 

The timing is perfect. The role, a dream. The company unparalleled. 

I'm moving forward again, and whatever this may bring, I am ready for my next chapter. 

Career junctions can be scary, but in midlife especially so. However, our skills and experience are hard-earned and we have so much to offer. We just need to believe in ourselves more. 

As one of our guest lecturers told us - "Always dream one size bigger". 

That's one lesson I will not forget. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

5 Unexpected Benefits Of Giving Up Alcohol

Have you ever considered giving up alcohol? Or even just taking a break?

I never expected to be a non-drinker. I fell into it, accidentally. It was only meant to be for 30 days, but here I am over four years later – happier, healthier, calmer, more productive – all thanks to not drinking.

I wasn’t a problem drinker. I wasn’t an alcoholic. I was like most people in Ireland who drink – it was just part of the lifestyle that we all partook in. A bottle of wine at home on a Friday night, dinner and drinks with friends (when we were allowed to do such things). A bottle of cold beer on a sunny day to enhance the moment, a glass of champagne to mark a celebration, something stronger to get through the tough days.

It was always there – good times, bad times, a social elixir, a stress reducer.

I thought giving up alcohol would be all about what I was losing out on – but in fact it turned out to be about what I gained. Here are just some of things giving up alcohol gifted me:

1. Energy

Within two weeks my energy levels soared. I painted the house, completed a diploma, ran my fastest 10k ever. I had so much extra energy, I didn’t know what to do with it all. In the past two years I have run a marathon and written two books – not drinking is a serious superpower!

2. Less anxiety

While many of us use alcohol to relieve stress and anxiety, it actually only works as a pause button. In fact, alcohol often increases the stress and anxiety the next day, leading to a vicious circle. Without alcohol in my system, my anxiety reduced and I was able to take on whatever life threw at me.

3. Better parenting

With more energy, added patience and no hangovers I was more able to dedicate more of myself to my kids. I became a calmer, more patient and more organised mum. Far from perfect, but definitely better!

4. Time

It’s surprising the amount of time we dedicate to drink – whether its hours in the pub (remember that?), nights in front of the TV, or mornings feeling the worse for wear – so many hours get lost to drinking that we don’t even notice. For someone who was constantly chasing their tail, this was a huge gift – time was given back to me in spades.

5. Confidence.

I thought not drinking would knock my confidence rather than increase it. But once I learned who I was in a social situation without a drink in my hand to boost me, a quiet confidence grew in me.

The same was true about life in general – I learned that I am able to take head on anything that life throws at me … and it’s a good feeling.

Other benefits included brighter eyes, better skin, deeper relationships, increased clarity of mind, more money and more excitement for the future.

Most of us spend almost all of our adult lives drinking without really questioning it. But what if giving up was the best thing you ever did? You won’t know until you try of course. Giving over just 30 days out of the 60+ years of our lives that we spend drinking seems like it’s worth a try to me. If you're sober curious or want to take a break from alcohol for awhile to see the impact it has on your life - The Accidental Soberista is a good place to start!

Pop over to Amazon see the rest of the reviews and grab yourself a copy! 

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Accidental Soberista - My book about giving up alcohol

It's exactly one year since our lives were turned upside down by Covid, and what a year it has been. 

Something that got me through the tough days was knowing that I had a secret. A project. Something to focus on and something to look forward too. 

It was back in May 2020 that an email landed in my inbox from the wonderful Gill Books asking had I ever thought about writing a book about giving up alcohol. Well, funny you should mention that...

I hug out the 10,000 words I had archived on my laptop from the year before, and so it began. 

I was back to rising with the sun over the summer months, going for a swim, writing for an hour, then diving into my work day. It felt busy but productive, and a welcome escape from the onslaught of daily news updates. 

And now here we are. I have the book in my hands and a few people are out there reading advance copies.

It's both scary and exciting. 

The book details my drinking career, how I got sober curious, and how giving up changed my mind, body, friendships, socialising, parenting and every other aspect of life - for the better. There are lots of embarrassing drunken stories and (hopefully) some inspiration for anyone thinking of giving it a break. 

The Accidental Soberista is out on 2nd April (Good Friday!), and if you pre-order you will have your copy in time for the Easter weekend. Yay!

You can pre-order from 

Dubray: http://bit.ly/AccidentalSoberistaDubray

Eason: http://bit.ly/AccidentalSoberistaEason

Outside of Ireland - Book Depository: http://bit.ly/AccidentalSoberistaBD

A note about pre-orders: 

Pre-orders make a huge difference to the whole book industry - from publishing houses to distributors to bookshops to authors. It helps with planning, promotion, ordering and best-seller lists (as all pre-orders go in to the books first week of sales). 

It's also an absolute joy to get a book through your mailbox when you had forgotten you ordered it! 

So if you can, please do. Thank you! 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Awakenings: Thoughts From A Lockdown

I've spent weeks grappling with the new world order. Trying to form some sort of sense from it in words that suddenly seem too small.

From the rumblings of something strange happening on the other side of the world months ago, to the confusion that it was closer than any of us had suspected. 'Poor Italy', we said. 'How could we not have known?'

We were still untouchable at that stage. Going about our normal business, doing things that are now extraordinary - like going into an office to work and meeting friends for dinner. We had no idea what was coming until it hit - like a strong right hook when all we had expected was a couple of gentle jabs. The announcement of the school closures pulsed through the airwaves, allowing no room for any other thoughts like 'what's for dinner?' and 'when is that report due?' In a matter of seconds everything shifted. The world ceased to turn while we held our collective breath.

How apt that the dawn of the next day was Friday 13th. The days that followed would be filled with an onslaught of information - messages, classes, emails, whatsapps, phone calls.
How to Work from Home! How to make sourdough! Free crafting classes! Instructions for first years! And Third Years! And 5th Class! How to use Dropbox! How to volunteer! Store Opening Times! Free PE! Primary School Books! Secondary school resources! New Government Announcement! And a billion memes.

So. Many. Memes.

I dive into the freezing sea on the morning of Day 1, washing the unwanted party of thoughts from my head and resetting my system. It brings calm and clarity and a new addiction is born. Here I am forty days later still diving daily into her arms.

After awhile my little tribe begins to find a new sort of order - one filled with Google Classrooms and Zoom calls, basketball hoops, skateboards and afternoon strolls. A slowing down of time and a shrinking of space occurs, and it is quite lovely.

I find I am guiltily happy. Revelling in the quiet roads and birdsong.
But a tune, a piece of writing or a memory will cause me to unexpectedly well up.
All emotions a little closer to the surface than usual.

In those early days I am filled with plans and projects. Then wiped out with sudden lethargy come the afternoon, lying on my bed mindlessly scrolling through newsfeeds and messages. Sometimes I catch myself simply staring at the sky, clouds drifting by in watercolour paint strokes.

Day Dreaming. How long it has been since we have had that luxury.

Some days I feel the unraveling of our delicate balance like a physical force. I forget to breathe and the tension within the four walls with five people inside begins to rise. I know that once it blows we will come undone. And so I close the bathroom door and stick two rebel fingers up at the child on the other side, or leave the house on a solo Covid-rage walk. Filling my lungs with fresh air and positivity. Resetting myself, and in turn the family, like dominos.

There are many BIG QUESTIONS to grapple with. Connection. Community. Capitolism.  Europe. The Environment. Love. Family. The Meaning of Life. Death. Humanity.
This global pandemic has brought these questions to the forefront of all of our minds. The 'because that's the way it is' dead end response to everything has fallen away. As a society we have started to wonder about real change and whether it is actually possible. Could this actually be a catalyst for good?

Sometimes it's all too big and all too much. But the big questions and the big themes actually all revolve around the little things. The things that we now know in our very bones is the important stuff.

The quiet walks with teenagers that normally lock themselves in their bedrooms.
The outpouring of gratitude and respect for the healthcare workers.
The note pushed through the letterbox offering shopping trips.
Old fashioned letters sent to loved ones.
The snuggling of babies in bed.
Watching a bird in the garden.
Or the blossoms on a tree.
A safe space to call home.
Time spent with family.
Checking in on others.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Celebrating The Ordinary Life

I wasn't sure what to expect from the inaugural Life Lessons Conference in London. With no previous year's reviews to go on, but with a stellar line up of speakers - I was intrigued by the scale and diversity of the event. Bill Bryson was rubbing shoulders with Marie Forleo, and comedians, brain surgeons, politicians and psychotherapists joined panels and platforms to teach us everything we needed to know about LIFE.

Alain De Botton, founder of The School of Life kicked off the event and I could have spent the entire weekend listening to him alone. One of the wisest, driest, most interesting humans I've had the pleasure of sharing a room with.

He spoke of celebrating The Ordinary Life. Of taking lessons from the stoics - understanding how brief our moment of life really is, and how luck not just effort is a huge factor in how our lives unfold.

With so much noise these days around performance life coaches and motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, it was interesting to hear a voice pushing back on that path. Our Instagram feeds are overflowing with quotes on positivity and motivational inspiration, but maybe we don't need to be go-getting them all the time. Maybe sometimes we need to accept that luck and not just personal achievement are at work in the world. If everyone who is successful 'deserves' it because of their own personal efforts, does it mean that people who are not successful or who are desperately unhappy deserve their fate too? Sometimes, maybe. But it's worth pondering on. Sometimes it's just the way the cards fall. This all fits perfectly with my year of 'Slow' so I'll be following that trail a little further.

He also talked about childhood, and how similar we are to that child of 5 or 7 or 10 we once were. If you're happy-go-lucky, or eager to please, or you want to be a journalist, or live in the sea - then many of those feelings will still be with you when you're 27 or 87.

Finally he covered the importance of processing our thoughts and feelings. While meditation is about clearing and cleaning he mind, we need more than that. We need time to stare out windows and go for long walks without podcasts playing in our brain. We need silence and space.

It stuck with me as I had been pondering the same things in relation to my kids. Remember when we all spent hours staring out from the back of the car on long road trips as blurring fields and grey walls sped past?  I do. I'd think about all the places I wanted to go, I'd imagine what the farmer's children were doing that day, I'd imagine myself buying the tumble down cottage we just passed and delight in the possibilities, I'd wonder why our family had such terrible cars when Dad had such a good job, and I'd plan conversations with friends and think about that thing I had said that I probably shouldn't have. My mind would be awash with thoughts and feelings and I'd have the time to let it all play in my head like a movie reel.

Kids in cars with screens don't have that time. Kids on sofas with screens don't have that time. Kids in bed with screens don't have that time.
The only time my kids are sure not to have access to distractions is in the bath, and one of them has already told me he doesn't like taking baths because they make him sad. I suddenly realised that it was the only time he is forced to confront his feelings. The rest of the time he can avoid them with a variety of distractions - friends, tv, school, sports - always something to fill the dreaded vacuum.

But it's not just kids. If you're suffering from insomnia and waking up at 3am in a panic, it may well be because you haven't carved out the mental space your mind needs during the day. One to think about (if you have the time...).

The other thing I love about Alain and The School of Life is the concept. Teaching us things that every human should be taught. How to deal with heartbreak, How to find a career we love, How to be confident, How to fail, How to forgive and so much more. The more years I spend looking at my children in the depths of our educational system the more I despair. If only they could be learning life lessons like this instead of oxbow lakes and pythagoras's theorem. Surely a better use of their precious childhood?

There is no ordinary life. We are all extraordinary. A jumbled mess of emotions and crazy thoughts that we generally keep to ourselves. No one is normal. Which is what makes us human.

The sooner we learn this lesson in life the better.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Hippie Files - What Is Soul Society?

A few months ago myself, my daughter, my sister and my hippie friend took a chance on booking a meditation evening we knew nothing about. The name alone had sold me, but when I learned that Soul Society came with crystals as well as guided meditation there was no going back. My little crystal collection had grown naturally over the past year or so, but I knew nothing about them and wanted to learn more.

So we piled into the car and drove to the venue, got lost, argued, and arrived utterly unzenned at the little room in the park where it was located.

Soul Society is run by Dawn Nolan and Merle O'Grady, with the wonderful Karina providing warmth and support in her utterly unique Karina way. They've been running it without promotion or fanfare for over a year, and it has grown into a much loved and much needed monthly time out for it's attendees.

The evening starts with a yoga mat, a blanket, some carefully selected crystals and lots of smiles. There's a beautiful guided meditation, written for that night's theme by Dawn. Then there's a little talk about crystals by Merle, the choosing of your take-home crystal, some angel cards and a chance to ask any crystal related questions. Merle makes crystals magical yet accessible, explaining that there is no right or wrong way to use them - the key is to just go with what your subconscious is pulled towards.

We then get to break for herbal tea and healthy cake (or so I'm told...). And finally the evening is rounded off with another original meditation from Dawn. The first night saw us head off in our heads on a stroll along a clear cold coastline, followed by relaxation in a big velvet chair by a hot log fire. It was perfect. Almost like the real thing - but without having to get up :)

We left later that evening with a crystal in our pocket, a clear mind and much lighter step.

Our little troop has made it a monthly ritual now. A way of stopping the world and taking some much need deep breaths. Reflecting. Relaxing. And spending time together. It's a bonding, special time and something we all need more of.

IN YOUR OWN WORDS - With Dawn Nolan

1. In your own words what is Soul Society?
Soul Society is a monthly guided meditation evening with crystals. I (Dawn) do the meditations and Merle O'Grady talks us through the powerful healing and supportive abilities of crystals. Each month we set a different theme that we would like to work on such as gratitude/ forgiveness or setting intentions. Everyone who comes gets to choose a crystal to take home with them. Then we stop for tea, cake, chats which is one of my favourite parts (Merle makes these delicious little donut buns that would be rude not to try). All in all, it's a lovely restorative evening of relaxation, connection and taking time out for yourself.

2. Who is it for?

Soul Society is for anyone who wants to take some quality time for themselves, anyone who wants to relax and to connect with likeminded people and anyone who is curious to know more about crystals.

3. Where / when did you learn your craft?

Dawn: I became a Life Coach and NLP practitioner in recent years after working in both graphic and interior design. I set up myhighershelf.com because I'm hugely passionate about wellbeing and helping people find the right tools and support for themselves. 

With Soul Society, I was looking to start a monthly meet up for people who were like minded and I suppose spiritually curious ; ) I had met Merle through Mumtalks and asked her if she would be interested in doing this together and we are now on our second year and loving it. 
Merle has a background in the fashion industry creating jewellery. She retrained as a Crystal Therapy Practioner after her experiences with crystals had a really positive impact on her life.

4. Where can we find out more ?
You can find out more by following myself @myhighershelf or @merleogradystudio on instagram or for tickets eventbrite.ie

Hippie Files Rating 3.  Highly Recommended. 
Hippie Files 1 - 10 scale. 
1 = Totally normal - accountants welcome. 10 = Peak Hippie - dreadlocked dropouts raised in the woods only) 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Hippie Files

There's magic in the air.

Everywhere you look there is a new shamanic master at work - from the ubiqutous yoga instructor to the more obscure guided ayahuasca journey and everything in between.

I may be mistaken of course. It could be that I've fallen down a rabbit hole of crystal proportions, but it seems like there is a search on. We've lost our religion, we've thrown ourselves into work, consumerism and technology - and we've suddenly realised that something is very much amiss.
We've lost connection. With ourselves, with others, with nature, with the meaning of life and with

The Big Questions.

If priests and elders no longer the people we look to for guidance  - where do we find it?

I first dipped my henna painted toe into the world of hippiedom in my twenties. Not content with a yoga class down the road I went straight to the source instead: Byron Bay in Australia. Home of the Hippie and magnet of alternative wanderers. I set up camp with a raggle taggle crew gathered from various parts of Europe, and we immersed ourselves in fire twirling loveliness. We wore beads in our hair and walked barefoot everywhere for months on end. We thought we had all the answers and life was so much simpler. It was wonderful and I wouldn't change the experience for anything (which is fortunate as I traded a large part of my financial future for it....) but really I was caught up in the 'alternativeness' of it all, not the soulful deep dive of the Self that I'd be seeking now.

But lately I've been doing just that. Down the mystical rabbit hole I mentioned. I've been Yin Yoga-ed, floated off on guided meditations, explored crystal healing, and danced to mother cacao in a ceremony that was part Sharon Horgan hidden camera sitcom, part heart opening ceremonial celebration... (I'll come back to you on that one).

The thing is - once you find yourself at one of these happenings, a whole world of other ones come to light - each more strange or beautiful or intriguing than the next.

So if you're interested in coming along on a hippie trail to find out what some of these weird and wonderful events and therapies are all about then jump aboard.  First up will be Soul Society's Crystal Meditation evenings.

Then I might even be brave enough to share that cacoa experience. Well maybe...

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