Once I saw 30 as the magical number where one becomes an adult. I think that was what lay behind the 30 before I was 30 list (mostly completed). I wanted to tick certain boxes before I got too old and boring.

On the eve of my 30th this now seems absurd to me. I feel as though I’m only just getting stuff figured out and have come to realise that doubt and uncertainty will never truly go away. One goal on my list was to own my own house. I’ve done this this but last week I found out the husband is being made redundant. We’ll be fine, but it highlights the naive simplicity of a list of goals to achieve which will mean you’re sorted. Even if we didn’t have an oh-gosh-that-is-a-very-long-time kind of mortgage there’d be all the costs associated with owning and running a house.

There’s a scene in the first episode of Lost where upon their speaking for the first time Jack tells Kate about his panic on the operating table when something went wrong with a patient. He allowed himself a certain amount of time to panic then just got on with fixing her.

That is a bit how I’ve been viewing my twenties as they’ve neared to an end. There have been mad times (the party girl challenge*) and bad times (I have been too far too many funerals) and much of it undercut with a sense of panic. OCD is an anxiety disorder and I have spent much of the last decade trying to juggle things and get everything perfect.

I’ve been telling myself as the weeks go by that I’ll let myself worry until I’m 30 but then I need to just get on. Very little planning has gone into the weekend’s party but I’ve been forcing a c’est la vie attitude. Twice the plans for the cake have fallen through and my mum now has a final solution (in a nice way, not a Nazi way) and I’ve not even asked for details.

Obviously my OCD isn’t going to disappear because I’ve willed it so but I do believe I can control my reaction to it. After all, I’ve never let fear stop me from doing something (I fear being scared of embracing life more than I fear any challenge) so if I’m going to forge ahead I may as well try to see the anxious thought and then see it on its way rather than do the same actions but let it steal a little of my sunshine.

I’m excited about turning 30. It all got very real when my mum arrived on my birthday with a helium balloon with big numbers on it. Big birthdays definitely feel different. I suppose that’s because the force you to reflect. That can either be positive or not. Having had my wild child days and travels and now being in a settled place that supports my reflection being positive. Perhaps if I hadn’t travelled or was in a less happy place I might fear my life was passing me by. I remember hating turning 23 – I felt I was rushing towards my mid-twenties and had nothing to show for it.

So I don’t feel properly adult but I do feel more like I’ve figured out what it means to be an adult. It’s less about having the answers than it is about having a strategy. When we heard about the redundancy we didn’t know what we were going to do but we did have a plan. It started small (a couple of beers and a notepad and pen in the garden) but we knew it would develop.

I’ve been alive for enough years to know that a few years down the line I’ll be looking back on this as one of many hurdles that have been scaled. Things just don’t seem to be as big as they used to be when I was younger (my seven month pregnancy belly excluded). Even when in the midst of crisis experience is saying we’ll get through it.

I’m going to be so placid when I turn 50!

In the meantime there’s something to start thinking about. Forty things to do before I’m 40!

There are a few things left on the old list but it’s largely underway. I’ve nearly finished cooking the different cuts of the pig I bought and baby is on his way.

1)    Publish a book

2)    Have a baby

3)    Cook a multibird roast

4)    Go to an airport and take a flight chosen on the spot

5)    Watch a sunset and sun rise without going to bed

6)    Make a film or documentary

7)    Ride a motorcycle

8)    Buy an entire animal and cook it

The new list won’t carry any of these things over. I suppose that gives me 48 things to do but hey, I have 10 years in which to do it all!

* The party girl challenge was something I did aged 25. I had recently moved to Malaysia and didn’t really know anyone so for one week I vowed to go out every day. I met the girl I went on to spend the most time with that week. I also got really stuck for options and nearly went country dancing one night. Fortunately fate intervened and I met a rather dishy German stockbroker.


 
I’ve worked in hospitality. Which is a posh way of saying I’ve been a waitress. I meet loads of lovely waiting staff but have very little patience with awkward ones. Yes it’s tiring being on your feet but it is not a difficult job. Nor is retail (which I’ve done even more of) and I’m firmly of the mindset that smiling and being pleasant makes the job easier.

On Tuesday night we ate at The Queens Head in Longford. It was our second visit and overall I really rate the food. It’s just the whiney justification for their practises I don’t like. I hadn’t read the website before I went and nor did I scrutinise the menu when I arrived. I missed the statement that they do not serve starters only. I had the audacity to try and order a starter for my main as I couldn’t eat much (baby seemed lost and intent on occupying my stomach). I was told no.

I appreciate it’s their policy but I’m not very good at being told no by a waitress. I also found it a bit unreasonable as we were a party of five with everyone else ordering expensive mains. But I asked to look at the menu again resigned to skipping starter and having just a main. The only thing I fancied cost less than the two starters. Which seemed ridiculous. I headed to the bar (my inlaws are terrified of confrontation which means that fate dictates that the only time I ever have a problem at a restaurant is when I’m with them) to make my case.

I politely pointed out the logic of letting me have two starters and asked the waitress to be reasonable. She retorted that she didn’t feel she was being unreasonable (which is all very well but she was a stranger to me and I wasn’t terribly interested in her feelings). I sighed and waited. This is a great tactic as most people are really freaked out by eye contact and silence. Also, I had nothing to add. They could make more money out of me by giving me what I wanted, win-win.

She blathered on for a while about profit margins and her feelings. I wasn’t really listening at this point as it wasn’t very interesting. Finally she huffed and puffed and said fine. I gave her a wide smile and thanked her. I returned to my seat. A raised eyebrow from my mother in law and I just said I’d got her to give me what I wanted. This may be why my mother in law sometimes seems a bit scared of me.

I am an obnoxious bint. I fully admit that but whatever happened to the customer being right?

But I can’t complain too much as I spend a fair bit of time telling my customers what is right. In fairness that’s why they hire me – I don’t just supply marketing content, I plan and strategise it. I create solutions with it and help my clients to personalise it. When they want something I don’t want to do, I pitch preferable alternatives. When a potential client wanted copy without any strategy I refused to work for him. Just as the waitress tried to refuse to serve me.

It’s not nice being on the other side. I can empathise with the waitress having been in a similar situation myself. Naturally I had my way both times but it was really tough when the potential client rang me to make his case. There’s a phrase from Mumsnet that I love, No is a complete sentence, but it would have been a bit cheeky in a business context even from me. Yet my defence was rather like my attack in that after making my point I kept my silence. Ultimately, I do not believe I have to justify myself very often.*

I quite like people which is odd as the husband (who dislikes most people) is perceived to be a far more affable person (don’t let him fool you – beneath the polite manner he is judging you). I do try to be nice and assume niceness in others. It’s just that I qualify people before I care what they think. I suppose it’s a defence mechanism but I also think it’s efficient. Why waste time worrying what people think unless those opinions are likely to affect you?

Sure, I’d prefer it if the waitress at The Queens Head held me in neutral disregard rather than dislike me but it doesn’t really make much difference either way does it? Seems an odd thing to compromise what you want to win the approval of someone you’ll probably never see again. I cared more about the potential client as we continue to move in the same circles but again, not enough to actually do something I didn’t want to do.

I guess it’s not about the customer, it’s about me. I’m not saying I’m always right (though it’s easier when the husband doesn’t try to ague) but we are each the centre of our universe and what does denying that fact achieve? All experience is subjective after all.

And it’s not as though I didn’t tip.

* I count the husband among people I’m answerable to. Much as my mother in law often seems to believe otherwise I hold him in great respect – he had the balls to marry me after all!


 
When I was a young teenager I wanted the prize that the author of letter of the month in my favourite magazine received. I pondered how best to craft a few sentences that would earn me whatever it was I wanted (for while the experience stayed with me, my tastes quickly moved on).

I hit upon my idea just before Christmas. The November issue had carried the free gift of an advent calendar where behind each door was an object of teenage lust. Previous winning letters had often featured crafty tips and I thought that recycling the calendar to produce a wallet size picture of your favourite celebrity was genius.

The editor did too. I didn’t win my prize but thereafter there was a wallet sized picture of the celebrity on the front cover with little scissor marks around it and the suggestion you cut it out and keep it in your wallet.

I didn’t quite know what to make of it and this is the first time I’ve ever told anyone. I was confused, if my idea was good why hadn’t I won?

As an adult I understand all too well and while I feel for teenage me I think I probably gained more from the experience than I would had I received whatever lip gloss kit it was I might have received. People steal ideas all the time, this was simply my first encounter.

When my so-called mentor in my first proper marketing job presented my ideas to our boss then badmouthed me it was my first experience of workplace bullying. But it was also an important step in boosting my confidence. While the husband suggested it illustrated a weak has-been empty of creativity and threatened by the fresh young thing, it also proved that my ideas were good. Rather than crush me, it gave me the confidence (after I had shed many tears into glasses of wine) to apply for a role that was a major step up on the career ladder. A role I got and where fabulously my new boss proved to be an inspiration.

It always smarts when your ideas are taken but lots in life hurts and I believe it’s how we interpret things that determine our success.

I encountered an idea at a recent sales seminar whereby meetings without clear outcomes and pitches were reframed as free consultancy. It’s something I’ve certainly fallen into and am keen to better manage my approach. I’m currently working on a deal I hope will come to fruition soon and am wary of giving too much campaign planning information away before the deposit is banked. While my business offers fairly concrete marketing products, there is a huge amount of creative planning and more than one potential client has had the benefit of the latter without ever paying for the former.

But it’s a learning curve and I carry no bitterness. I’ve encountered copywriters that come across as quite defensive on their websites (so goodness knows what they’re like if you have the audacity to phone in an enquiry) and I’m determined not to lose my cheery optimism.

While being nice and assuming niceness in others can render you a bit naive I do think the world is as you perceive it. My world is full of promise and opportunity, it wasn’t always and it makes far more sense to me to think it was me that changed rather than the world.

This has made me think of a post I wrote in 2010 on Avatar and a quick visit shows people haven’t moved on. There’s a current thread called Saddened feeling after watching Avatar with some similar comments to the ones discussed in my ancient post.

Then there was a fascinating thread (How might I earn £1000 a month working from home) on Mumsnet that got a bit hijacked by a poster suggesting she aim to earn that in a day. A lot of sensible advice was given but there were still those that think of her as a fantasist. Clearly to them, the world is not full of opportunities just waiting for those wanting to grasp them.

Would those people sink into a depression when up against like my old bully or lose heart at spending time on pitches that don’t lead to sales? Would theft of their efforts break them rather than build them?

I don’t know what combination of factors made me the way I am, for me that’s the holy grail. My youngest stepson I have no concerns about, he has an inner glow of confidence and he knows he has charisma. He seems destined to bounce through life. But I worry about the eldest. Tonight he explained that he didn’t move the cat who sat where he was about to sit because he didn’t want to be mean. He’s a lovely child but I’m at a loss at how to convey that assertiveness doesn’t make you mean.* I think that lies at the root of these musings. Logically I know he needs to get knocked by life before he’ll toughen up, it’s just hard watching two children grow up who have such different raw material to start with.

* Also, he’s a sodding cat so just boot him off the sofa.

 
This is my first post this month, quite the slacking off. I’m just so tired and it has been falling into the non-essential category. It has also felt like an endless chore and life is too short to do things you don’t enjoy that aren’t essential. Needless to say, I’ve had to start delegating. Here are my thoughts in five easy steps from the dusting to your sex life.

1)    Taking care of the home

Getting a cleaner is one of the most common ways of delegating life’s chores and one I’m most familiar with. It’s a tough business though. I finally set up an appointment only to be stood up. It’s so frustrating to hear people endlessly complain about the lack of jobs when at least in the lower brackets I’m crying out for someone. It’s not just that I’m struggling to find the energy after working and looking after my stepsons two days a week but we have one of these baths and at six months pregnant I can’t actually bend over the edge to clean it. I’m also struggling to get a garden to commit to cutting the tree in the front garden. But I’m optimistic. I’ve another cleaner appointment in the morning and a flyer came through the door from another gardener. Surely someone will agree to take my money soon.

2)    The big work stuff

I’m a big believer in hiring experts. It’s somewhat important that I believe that since I sell my expertise and I can’t sell what I don’t believe in (this is why I sold lots of Nikon when I worked at Jessops). So I have an accountant and a web developer. I also spend a fair bit of money to someone to host my website. It’s very cheap and apparently easy to do yourself but when my web developer started asking questions about my domain I sent him to the guy I pay. At my hourly rate it’d be madness to do it myself. Sure it takes my host guy seconds but it’d take me ages.

3)    The small work stuff

Once I started valuing my time and paying people to do the stuff I could only at an absolute stretch do myself I started to think more about the stuff I could do myself but it would make sense to outsource. This was a turning point in my business as I realised if I worked with other people and took care of marketing and client relations I could offer better and more varied service. While that was about teamwork I’ve recently hired a VA (virtual assistant) who is building me a spreadsheet. I’m pleased with what I’ve seen of his work so far and am hopeful of what Avani might do for me in the future. It is somewhat annoying that getting an assistant in India who can manage complex research tasks is easy as pie but someone with a ladder in my home town is difficult but what can you do?

4)    Child care

Here I start to perhaps go a bit far. Driving back from this morning’s breakfast networking meeting I was hit with yet another wave of exhaustion. The boys were sitting quietly in the back of the car but I just felt drained at the idea of the next 8½ hours I was responsible for them. A friend had mentioned that Blooms had a good soft play area and I figured that a cup of tea there might be a good place to start. I wrote the vital emails while the boys started to fight then packed them into the car.

Would they be getting a long play, enquired the eldest. Hell yes they were going to. I hoped to stay until we needed to go to A&E or they absolutely needed feeding. The youngest popped out briefly to complain that a little girl had thrown a plastic ball in his face. I pulled him briefly onto my lap, heard him out then gave my standard “no blood, no foul” answer and sent him back in. There was also a toilet break which is rather frustrating when there are two of them and one of you. I had to send the youngest back to get his brother as the toilets are a short walk from the entrance to the play area. But beyond that, 2½ hours with a pot of tea and my book as they played behind soundproof glass. Bliss.

I had observed some helicopter parenting where odd people were electing to stand the other side of the soundproof glass and watch their children but shrugged them off as odd. The exit was in my peripheral eye line and I looked inside (from my seat) every twenty minutes or so until I spotted them. I only noticed the signs saying children must be supervised at all times when I went in to call them so we could go home for lunch.

Maybe a giant glass cube full of squashy plastic isn’t a nanny substitute?

5)    Sex

The husband sent me a link to a story in The Telegraph this week that suggests that the recipe for happiness is an enduring marriage and an affair with lots of sex. Was this the final step I wondered? It turned out that the husband was convinced we are going to have an enduring marriage and all we need to do is have an affair with each other and we’ll have won the happiness lottery. Hmm, that sounds great in theory but le cinq à sept (“the magical space between 5pm and 7pm when men see their mistresses”) is currently filled with things like him mowing the lawn and asking which week we’re on for the bins as I approach the end of my physical limits and put the last of the days effort into unloading the dishwasher.

Wasn’t he adding to the workload instead of reducing it? Wasn’t he wilfully misunderstanding the article and was just being too lazy to register on one of those affair sites?

Um no. I had simply lost my mind through lack of sleep.

Fingers crossed about the cleaner though.


 
“Do as I say, not as I do” was something that my Granny said about smoking when my father was a child. It didn’t impress my father much. She did quit eventually (I think it was after the third heart attack) but died of smoking related cancer anyway. As a child when he relayed it to me it struck me as a bit daft. I was one of those vile children that believed respect needed to be earned. I think that was my parents’ fault. I remember the parents of friends saying “because I said so” and assuming they were too stupid to understand their own actions. Actually scrap that, I think it was my dad’s fault. He didn’t suffer fools at all. My mum is lovely and far more diplomatic.

To be honest I still believe all that but it’s somehow more acceptable in an adult. At any rate I’ve never given the answer “because I said so” to my stepsons and I never will.

This week I was chatting to someone I’ll call a friend (I’m never quite sure what the term is for someone I work with but who isn’t a client, “supplier” isn’t really accurate) and realised I essentially said “do as I say, not as I do” at work. Last week I was a guest speaker at a networking event on the topic of ‘Value added communication.’ One thing I covered was email signatures and how to utilise them.

Over the next few days I had several email conversations with people who had attended the event and they eagerly pointed me in the direction of their revamped signatures. They were great. They had taken the theory, had a great discussion as a group and gone away to create something useful thanks to me. It was a great feeling. It was a great feeling until I realised my own signature could use a bit more tweaking.

My friend also works in marketing and promotion and said she knew exactly what I meant. We pour our energies into providing the best we can for our clients but it’s so hard to do for ourselves. Partly it’s the old chestnut that while we can cheerlead for Britain when it comes to singing the praises of the people we work with, it’s really hard to do it for yourself. The best thing about running an agency is that I can brag about how good we are because I’m bragging about the amazing people in my team. The other factor is time. It’s hard to prioritise working on your own marketing when marketing for others is billable. What was it about butchers’ children going without meat?

Like me, my friend leaves meetings and conversations reflecting on the brilliant ideas and thinking she should really do more of that stuff for herself. Well my latest venture really hits home my do as I say, not as I do mentality. I’m selling blogs!

This blog does NOT fit the theory. I suppose because it has woolly objectives. I write it for my own benefit, I never give thought to the title or keywords. Hell, I don’t even bother tagging it. Oh and I regularly forget to even look at the analytics package!

Yet today I spoke as though I was the expert. What I’ve done is recruited an online article writer (/blogger) and created a rate card for clients interested in buying up blocks of blogs. I have created a template for campaign planning based on client objectives and am clarifying terms and conditions. You see, I know this stuff and how it works. I have the talent on my team and know I can provide effective inbound marketing solutions for my clients.

I just don’t do it for my own blog.

 
Crikey, it’s Thursday!

I don’t know how I forget. I have a very fluid week now I’m self employed and can often be found working on a Sunday afternoon then drinking coffee with a girlfriend on a Wednesday morning yet there is one regimented day in my week, Thursday.

For over two years I have been a stepmother and the one night the boys are always with us is Thursday. Since February I have attended a weekly business breakfast on a Thursday. Every week my alarm goes off at six am to start the one day that changes little in its routine.

It’s 7.20 and I have no topic. I used to talk about my week but that is now so full of work stuff and baby stuff that there isn’t time for much else. I’m happy the weather seems to finally be improving but that’s hardly the stuff of more than a sentence of small talk.

The husband and I have made pretty good progress through watching all the Bond films in release order. We recently watched Goldeneye. Wild times people, wild times.

There’s a saying... well... there was something concocted by a marketing bod that goes along the lines of those that don’t have time to spa are those that need it the most. I think the lack of material to inspire me is an indication of the need to go out and be inspired.

I actually have a project in the pipeline for the summer holidays. I’m taking care of my stepsons on Thursdays and the eldest on Fridays (later to be joined by the youngest who is serving his notice at playgroup) so there’s plenty of time to fill.

We’re going to make a time capsule.

Life is about to change dramatically for all of us when the bump becomes a baby and I want to capture our family as it is now. I’m also interested in the wider idea of what the future holds and want the boys to draw the cars they may one day drive. I found a video a while back of the youngest playing row-row (basically doing the actions to Row Row Row Your Boat) with the husband. I could hardly believe he’d been so little.

I think it’ll be amazing to have a box full of captured memories to enjoy one day in the future.

I also think it’ll help me slow down and reflect on where we are instead of rushing forward. Because I am a little impatient. I’m not great at being pregnant. In fact I find it really hard work. I felt the baby move pretty early for a first pregnancy and it’s like River Dance on my bladder. It can be tough to enjoy something that you find challenging but it is a special time and I must. Similarly, taking care of the boys while juggling work needs to be appreciated. I have the opportunity to spend time with them in a way their dad can’t, I need to enjoy it and remember how lucky I am.

It’s all too easy to forget to live in the present but our time capsule will focus that.

And on that note I’m retiring at only half a column through. I’m tired and I have another busy day tomorrow so I’m going to go and talk to the husband because if Riverdancer is anywhere near as vocal as he (yes, it’s a boy) is active, I doubt I’ll get a word in in a few months time!

 
It’s not often I face a dilemma I consider to be one of an ethical nature. After all, my lack of arms dealing or trade in fur means that the Co-op was happy to grant me a business bank account with them. I don’t find it a challenge not to hit my stepkids or be faithful to my husband and well, I suppose my life is pretty ordinary. The biggest decision that has touched on ethics in the last few years was choosing not to screen for Downs Syndrome for my unborn child. The Nuchal translucency test merely identifies you as high or low risk (fairly unhelpful) and the subsequent amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling carry a miscarriage risk of up to 1%. Risk killing my baby when I’d never abort on the grounds of it having Downs anyway seemed mad. It was an easy one to call.

I do believe that all is fair in love and war however. I don’t so much have a vendetta list as an awareness that people who have crossed me in the past have something coming to them. Still, I’m pretty passive. Even my ex husband who was pretty rotten to me is, I think getting his due. When I last saw him his career was laughable and he seemed pretty pathetic. I believe in karma to that extent, I believe that if you are nice and assume niceness in others you’ll go further than if you are sceptical and selfish. My ex husband upon reflection is a paranoid narcissist. That doesn’t make for a good partner but nor does it make for a happy life. Sure he did badly by me but for his entire life he’s been doing badly by himself! Frankly I wish him luck when faced with that.

Business is the warzone of the average person and there are a few who have crossed me in that arena as well. But again I see unhappiness and risk. An individual who screwed me on an invoice is undoubtedly doing it to others. I’m the kind of person who after failing to find resolution through legal options had a bit of a rant and a big glass of wine then chalked it up to experience. I’ll let someone else slash her tyres.

My focus tends to be on putting good stuff out there in the hope of getting returns. As someone of zero religious faith it does raise the question of whether I’m making Pascal’s Wager. I hope not given that I think Terry Pratchett beautifully covered the idea in The Hogfather  where a philosopher suggesting it’s worth believing in the gods just in case finds himself upon his death encircled by gods ready to share their views on such existential gambling.

My defence is that I do genuinely believe in karma (inasmuch as I don’t believe in rebirth). Instead I think that we live one life and that our actions endlessly rebound back onto us, after all it is a small world. I believe that each of us is infinitely powerful and largely have the life we deserve.

In reminding myself of this, I’ve talked myself out of doing something potentially good for business but bad for karmic retribution.

What happened was that I saw a copywriter slating a client on a forum. It was very easy to identify the client. Furthermore, the copywriter is someone local to me; my direct competition for business. It would be very easy to direct the (small) business owner to the forum and let them see what their trusted contractor is saying about them.

I feel bad for the copywriters client but not much harm is really being done (although I feel what the copywriter is doing is deeply unprofessional). Clearly this copywriter is a somewhat nasty piece of work (and I’m glad I’ve identified her and can watch my own back around her) but while it was briefly tempting to sink to her level, rat her out and try to steal her client it’s not the person I want to be.

And it could only be bad for karma.

Plenty of people in my professional circle know I’ve had trouble with a local business regarding an unpaid invoice but only two (my accountant and someone who helped my try and chase it) know who it was with. It’s something people know about me, I’m discrete about my negative experiences and focus on the clients, friends and connections I can sing and dance about. Nobody likes those that complain.

In this case the unethical thing to do appealed because it would have been easy. Building a good reputation takes time and it can be tough when you’re up against established figures. But cutting someone else down is the lazy approach. I know I’m nicer and more professional than this individual and by focusing on putting good stuff out there I’m certain that I’ll rise while she’ll undoubtedly be ultimately discredited.

Meanwhile I’ll sleep as well as my baby will let me and look my stepsons in the eye with a clear conscience as I tell them to be nice and assume niceness in others.

 
There is something that has begun to irritate me when people talk about the recession and our economy. There seems to be a focus on the idea of a job as the be all and end all. I don’t have a “job” and I know loads of people that don’t. Formal employment has its place and suits many (and the vast majority of people I know do have jobs) but self employment often gets missed. Not everyone is an entrepreneur (a term I’m particularly drawn to and like to use to describe myself) but plenty of people are perfectly capable of providing services or products on a freelance basis. I should know, I work closely with freelancers in the running of my own business. Then there are those individuals who probably don’t consider themselves business people yet by being self-employed run businesses. Here I’m thinking of my decorator and other service providers I’ve used.

Whilst eschewing it myself, I fully appreciate why many people want a job. A salary is (relatively) predictable and really helps with budgeting. Doing a tax return is also very daunting. But struggling to find a job surely isn’t the same as struggling to find work. I largely define myself as a writer and such a thing as a writing job is very rare. However, there is plenty of writing work to be had. I’m not and doubt I’ll ever be in a position to hire employees but I send work to several individuals and am still in search of a window cleaner. There are loads of things I’d like to pay someone to do; our guttering needs cleaning, we need a cat sitter, we’re increasingly talking about getting a cleaner. I scour the local papers and Gumtree but the gutters breed, my sister-in-law does her best to attend our felines and as my pregnancy progresses household cleanliness starts to slide.

I have an accountant (self-employed), a web developer (self-employed who has outsourced the graphic design and IT support to other self-employed individuals) and a mentor (yup, self-employed as well). My company team consists of four writers/editors and we’re all self-employed. Perhaps that affects my view that jobs are simply one way of doing work and bringing in an income.

I am in favour of jobseekers losing their benefits for refusing to attend employment program or turning down jobs. I have only once turned down work from a potential client and it was a hugely difficult decision to make. Generally I’m appreciative of each opportunity; I have to be. There are lots of valid reasons to want to turn down salaried jobs (childcare and transport difficulties seem to rank highly) but as a self-employed person I share those reasons. Last week I was in a car accident and am currently without transport. The taxi costs of the next month could make working an expensive exercise but that’s life.

I’d like to see more support and advice for individuals setting up their own businesses. Banks can be confusing with their advice and crucially they are not your friend! But Business Link is an invaluable resource for anyone looking at starting up a business and there are loads of community based organisations offering help and advice. It just needs pushing as an option and it’d be great if a national program could be established whereby individuals could demonstrate that they were “working” and still receive their benefits for a set period. Unsympathetic as I am to those that don’t want to work, new businesses need time to grow and if Cameron wants a more responsible Britain then I think he needs a wake-up call in how we encourage people to take responsibility for their futures!

The Workfare Scheme is a great idea and despite there being some clear flaws I think it’s a step in the right direction. It does, however, need to sit within a wider set of solutions.

I think the world is changing. One of my favourite things is TED and Carole Cadwalladr’s article Build a satellite in the shed: it’s the new DIY revolution in Sunday’s Observer covered June’s TEDGlobal event in Edinburgh nicely. I’ve long been a fan of the DIY approach, having discovered James Lovelock as a teenager and reading about his home laboratory. While this is but one movement, it demonstrates the view I hold that the way things are done will continue to evolve.

When I left high school there was a speech in which we were told that during our lives we’d have many careers and an estimated 12 jobs. I remember some of the parents feeling this was a negative thing to tell impressionable young people. I’m 30 this year and if I count everything with a distinct job description I passed that number several years back. I’m not sure what I’ll tell my children. For now (my eldest stepson being just seven) we’re going with the jobs approach as they discuss the roles they understand (policeman, fireman and most recently, rocket scientist) but while they’ll need to do something, a job is merely a single option.

Will they grow up to find jobs? Maybe or maybe not, but there are a variety of options and as long as they can afford to live and are able to take joy from life, I’ll be happy. I certainly plan to raise them to take a creative approach to earning a living!

 
Yesterday all being well I graduated from Durham University with my PhD. I say all being well as I’m writing this in advance in order to have no excuse not to spend all but the time on holiday it takes to find some WiFi signal and post this with the husband.

It has taken a long time to reach this point. Not only was the degree itself a lengthy undertaking of four years but there was a break while I waited for my Viva date then another year to wait as I passed my Viva a couple of days after the registration for congregation closed. After all that (and I don’t even want to start on what it cost me financially), one has to wonder... was it worth it and what did it get me?

I’ve had a few comments from people who feel I’ve somehow wasted my PhD as I arguably do something wholly unrelated to my specialist field (although I feel the transferable skills have made a phenomenal impact). I’m not sure what they’d have me do, perhaps I should be banished to a dusty corner of a campus library and left to simply be intelligent? What I came to realise as I deflected these comments with the argument that I liked what I was doing and was happy (how very dare I?) was that for lots of people a PhD is a means to an end.

I don’t even use my title. I’ve been entitled to use it for a year now and just don’t feel the need (except when someone is being obnoxious and calls me Miss, in those instances I coldly reply “if you feel the need to address me by my title it’s Doctor”). I mean the husband is entitled to use some letters (he can’t remember what they are) for a professional qualification he holds in the field he actually works in but doesn’t so why would I use mine as I’m not working in academia?

Don’t get me wrong, I like knowing I can be called Doctor but it’s a bit like my tattoo. I like it and am happy to talk about it but I don’t want it out there all the time.

When I started my PhD I had aspirations of an academic career. From where I am now I’m glad I didn’t make it. As Alain de Botton said: ‘In another age, I might have been an academic in a university, if the university system had been different. So it’s all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time.’ Although de Botton dropped out of his PhD (French Philosophy at Harvard) so he had to say something!

I’m glad it didn’t work out for me because I’ve come to realise I’m not great in institutions, I like to be in charge and it’s a long way and a number of funerals on ones way to a Deanship. Sure there’s a part of me that would have liked to be Professor rather than simply Dr Ashcroft but the beauty of business is that you can be the boss from day one.

The reason I don’t feel I’m wasting my PhD is because I fully appreciate everything I learned through the process. It was my doctorate that helped me find myself (to use that god awful phrase). It was my research that took me to Malaysia for a year, it was my interviewing that taught me how to hear what people are actually saying when they talk to you and once you’ve presented to academics you can talk to anyone (for those that watch Big Bang Theory, I’ve met plenty of Sheldon Cooper’s who have relished picking holes in my work to make themselves look smart).

I recently read an article on Mashable about The Connection Between Education, Money and Happiness. In it Thomas Katsouleas wrote that Richard Easterlin, an early economist in the econometrics of “happiness” had ‘found was that education was related to making a better living in that those with more education tended to have higher incomes. However, as a person’s income rose over time, their happiness did not. Yet, the bump up in happiness that began early in life for those with more than a high school education persisted throughout their lives. In essence, Easterlin dispelled any lingering notion of the old stereotype of “dumb and happy.” In fact, people with more education were happier than those with less.’

Katsouleas suggests the reason may lie in biology arguing that ‘Even lowly amoebas show evidence that boredom and unhappiness occur when subjected to repeated stimuli without new learning’ and of course* Socrates claimed that the purest form of happiness was sharing with someone else something you have learned. In closing Katsouleas’ talks about undergraduate classes in entrepreneurial skills and suggests that by doing this ‘students have the benefit of a broader setting in which to develop a perspective on what it means to be human and discover where they fit in the world. In so doing, they may not only come up with better ideas, they may also make better decisions. But by focusing on the shortest path to success students will fail to fully develop as people and ultimately short-change their own happiness.’

There lies the crux of the argument for me. Education helps you develop as a person and take a rounded view of what will make you happy. For me this was realised via a blend of my doctorate, travel and my need to adapt to some of the challenges I’ve faced (namely death and divorce). I’m happy because of what I’ve learned.

You don’t need a PhD to be happy but it certainly helped me. And nothing that brings you happiness can be a waste.

* Well it’s an of course for philosophy geeks like me.

 
One of my biggest bugbears in the last week has been the e-newsletters I’ve been getting from companies that market to pregnant women. Usually I rather like the updates on what fruit or vegetable my baby is the size of (an aubergine if you’re interested) and of course I’m in it for the free stuff and vouchers. But recently I keep getting suggestions that now is a great time to take a holiday.

I completely agree and if it wasn’t for the fact the husband and I are spending money on crazy things like travel systems and NCT classes I’d be booking that holiday pronto. Except no, we also need to bear in mind his holiday allowance and with two school aged kids (I’m counting the youngest as he starts in September and we’re doing the meet the teacher stuff) that’s tricky given that teachers like meetings that take place during the day.

Trust me, if I had £1.5k and he had an extra weeks’ holiday we’d be on it. We wouldn’t need it suggesting it to us. I’d be all over those mouth watering websites credit card in hand.

Evidently the notorious pregnancy grumpiness is well in flow. But I’ll leave you with this thought; such holidays in the “ideal time” of the second trimester are called Babymoons. Doesn’t that make you want to stab all involved (marketers and rich parents-to-be alike) now? See, it’s not just me!

Another kind of tourism I shall not be partaking in is trips into space. It’s not just the hefty £125,000 price tag of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic trip 100km above the Earth’s surface but the idea of going into space terrifies me. The idea of infinity creeps me out but by going no higher than a passenger jet can carry me is sufficient for it to seem far away.

But there seems to be no shortage of interested adventurers for the first flights (scheduled for the end of 2013). Robin McKie, writing for The Observer, points out the comparative value to other dramatic experiences: ‘A key common factor for these projects is the price-tag: steep but not prohibitive. It costs around £30,000 to £75,000 to make an attempt to climb Mount Everest, for example, and it is no coincidence that flights by Virgin Galactic and XCOR are priced only slightly higher – to capture the high-adventure tourism market dominated by the man and woman with the Breitling watch and the six-figure salary.’

The experience won’t last long. The Virgin Galactic flight which will be made with a pilot and six passengers will provide ‘six or seven minutes to float around the cabin and indulge in an ecstasy of camera-clicking before their ship starts to arc downwards.’ I’ve had ice creams that have lasted longer! I guess for me, the top experiences of my travels have allowed time to really take it all in. The briefest was probably the twenty minutes I spent watching Manta Rays in the Maldives but that same trip included seeing the clearest stars imaginable (there are a LOT!) whilst holding onto a fortifying glass of wine lest thoughts of the aforementioned infinity creep in.

I suppose I want value for money while those eager to shoot into space are interested in an experience that is quite literally out of this world. Perhaps it is just down to money. A few years ago I couldn’t comprehend why some people would spend what I considered to be ridiculous amounts of money on hotel rooms. But when visiting some friends who had just moved to Portland, the husband and I had little choice but to fork out for a decadent B&B. It was blissful. And I do like expensive shoes. Maybe I’m trapped in the mentality of my income bracket?

Well if not the tropics and not outer space, where am I going?

Next Wednesday I’m heading to Durham to attend the graduation ceremony for my PhD. There’ll just be my mum and the husband as I’ve elected to celebrate with my family on their home turf. On the Friday we’re having lunch with my Grandad at The Box Tree, Michelin Star feasting Yorkshire style before heading to Manchester to celebrate with my family living in the West of the country. This leaves a single day for the husband and I to squeeze in our second trimester holidaying.

We’re going to Lindisfarne. I last went years ago with my ex husband who in a pique of frustration insisted on taking on the causeway and trashed my mother’s car. I’m very excited to not only be going back but to be staying on the island itself (and with a man whose love for his BMW will treat the tide calendar with far more religious reverence than anything spiritual on the island itself).

I’m eager to show the husband some of the magic of the North of England. While the borders are as far from where I’m originally from as Gloucester is from Plymouth the North often feels smaller. Perhaps it’s due to the sheer number of fields that mean you can drive for miles without passing anything bigger than a hamlet. The first time the husband drove to the North East he exclaimed that we were only a few junctions from our destination. Yes, I replied, we’ll be there in about forty minutes.

The best thing about holidaying up North is the weather is nearly always bad (I’m from Yorkshire, I get to say that) so my expectation of Lindisfarne will be of rolling mist, haunting grey skies and warming up over chips in a cosy pub. Not that I’ll complain if we get freakish blue skies and a beautiful sunset but the bar is low and I can only have a wonderful time.