Monday 8th March 2021

Surviving Marmite sandwiches, gardening, children and being authentic. Chin-chin IWD2021.


This has been the hardest blog I have ever had to write. I can either say very much: 2020, a pandemic, first year in an executive role, the pre-Christmas curve balls and straight into the start to 2021, home schooling while working full time… I could write War and Peace.

Surviving Marmite sandwiches, gardening, children and being authentic. Chin-chin IWD2021

By Annemarie Roberts

This has been the hardest blog I have ever had to write. I can either say very much: 2020, a pandemic, first year in an executive role, the pre-Christmas curve balls and straight into the start to 2021, home schooling while working full time… I could write War and Peace. I suspect people won’t have any interest or time for that, especially now that the weather is turning nicely, and we are all preparing our little patches of land, so we can fill out our social calendars once again, starring our gardens as the perfect (or shall I say, one of the very few allowed) settings!

I digress, back to the topic at hand.

I am a bit of a glutton for punishment – on reflection I would say the majority of my challenges over the years have been self-inflicted to some extent because I just don’t like accepting the status quo.

I have been reflecting on some of the most challenging times I have experienced in my life and how I managed to get through it? There are many, but here are my top ones, these all stretched me, and that builds resilience and ultimately makes us stronger over time.

Moving to the opposite side of the world

At the age of 26 and ¾ I arrived in the UK with a promise of a sofa to sleep on, a backpack, £300 (in £50 notes, not having a clue how dodgy those notes are and I should have asked for £20’s when I exchanged my life savings into pounds). I had no UK work experience, never mind any idea of a public transport system, only ever being on a train maybe once before in my life. What a gamble it was, and how it has paid off! I got a temp job in one day and I have only been without work for two days in 14 years. I had so many transferrable skills. Once I got the small talk under my belt, I was good to go: moan about public transport as soon as you arrive at work and then talk about the weather and you are “in”. My hard work, adaptability, willingness to learn and dedication made me stand out wherever I worked, and lead to many career advancement opportunities.

Getting a student card again at age 29

As a qualified solicitor at the time, I was keen to learn more about management as I started having an inkling being a lawyer wasn’t my true calling in life. I went home with a crazy idea in my head to do an MBA, a gruelling master’s degree business administration I was planning to do in under two years, while working full time.… My then fiancée (now husband) who I went to to talk some sense into my head and make me reconsider, did not help with his response “absolutely, you must do it, you’d do fantastically well”. So, I started that as soon as I returned from my honeymoon (what a fall from grace). It was challenging, I had to work so hard to keep up with my day job (which was pretty important, so I could continue to fund the university fees). I made it, but it was hard. I had to fully give up my social life to study, squirrel every penny to pay fees and pay rent and bills. I still remember the sad Saturday when I gave away my Green Day concert tickets because I had just too much coursework due. I also remember another particularly low day when I was sat at my desk at work eating a Marmite sandwich without any butter on it. However, nothing like a cup of sugary tea to help that dry lunch on its way down the oesophagus. I stuck it out and having this qualification gave me a great springboard to alter the course of my career.

Offspring 1, 2 and 3 arrive

When I was 33 the life altering phase of having children arrived. I have three (aged three, five, and seven now) and the adjustment when you have your first child and then over time juggling being a working person, parent and a wife you can never fully prepare for.

I felt other women judged me for wanting to go back to a full-time role, you can work but you can’t say out loud that you actually look forward to it.

At work I was concerned that I would be placed on the “mummy track” – being overlooked for promotions, career advancement and exciting opportunities.

I ignored the “judgy” mums, and at work I threw my everything at it and also made it clear at every possible opportunity that I want to progress, just so that people won’t assume I wanted to coast. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I wanted the opposite of coasting.) I had a promotion at work in between each of my three children, with one of the roles literally starting six weeks before maternity leave.

I recall one particularly nasty experience where I, much more junior, was shamed by an executive director, for being late at a training session. This is after he had my apology in advance, specifically stating that I can’t be there on time as I have to wait for nursery to open, drop of my daughter and then travel into work. What a piece of work he was! However, not all work colleagues are like that and I refused for that to demotivate me, even though he was clearly enjoying embarrassing me. Over time I have learned to build up the confidence to say where my boundaries are, or a term I heard more recently “work life flow”. I might be out the door (in the days when we physically still left the office) by 4pm, but I’d be catching up once my kids were in bed and I made sure my performance was exemplary.

Being an executive director

Just over a year ago I joined my current organisation at a very challenging time. I enjoyed thinking I’d be eased in as a “first time” executive, someone holding my hand and there being a safety net in place. On reflection that may have been a bit naïve of me. Surprise! That’s not how it turned out in the end, it was more like being pushed into the deep end of the pool without quite knowing how to swim. With hindsight that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me as I had to get up to speed with front crawl, butterfly, backstroke and a lot of freestyling. There were strides ahead, some swallowing of water at times, but I kept swimming. I had to work long hours, use my influence to change the direction of travel when I felt we were veering in the wrong direction. Now I can look back to so many successes, things people didn’t think could be achieved, here are few. (1) Building a new senior management team totally virtually, all five people reporting into me now has never worked with me in a physical office. (2) Bringing a repairs and maintenance service inhouse during a pandemic. (3) Creating an outstanding compliance team and record, even though I knew very little about this when I first started.

When I look back, some of my successes have been because I have managed to stand out in a sea of faces. So, here are my top five tips for standing out and being noticed.

  1. Be authentic – embrace who you are and the things that make you unique. Don’t try and blend in, it is too boring. I was recently described by a work colleague as crazy and thought it one of the best compliments I have ever received.
  1. Get out of your comfort zone – that’s the only way you will learn and grow. Just because you don’t know how to do something doesn’t mean you can’t. My mantra is, “say yes” and then figure out how you are going to do it later.

 

  1. Be honest – if you want people to trust you and follow you, you need to be honest. And to be honest (excuse the pun), most people can see through people pretty easily. 
  1. Deliver – in life you need to do what you say you are going to do. Get it right at work, make sure the performance is where it needs to be. At home – don’t be the flake letting the friends down last minute. My friends and I act as accountability partners for each other, when we commit, we show up, even if we don’t want to run a half marathon on a Sunday morning at 8 when everyone else is enjoying the snow from inside their homes.
     
  2. Embrace change – the change of pace is increasing, so whether you are a receiver of change or driver of change, embrace it, get on with it and try to get used to it. Don’t keep on living in the past and the “good old days”. Embrace it.

 

So, to wrap up. Find your goals – your voice, your actions! And go for it. Whether that is a vision board, for others a to do list. Get a mentor/coach. Don’t wait as long as I did: I had to turn 40 to finally buy a jump suit, wear coloured head scarfs and take up art classes. And now I will venture into the world of gardening next (even though plants seem to die at my mere presence), but I am ready to jump into the deep end (or shall I say large beds overgrown with weeds) and give it a pretty good go.


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