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Ultimate multi-tasking

The East Anglian Daily Times ran my article on what some of us do when the going gets tough. I’ve reproduced it here for you:

As single mum of three teenage kids, one at Uni, two about to go, and still paying off a huge mortgage, job insecurity was the last thing I needed. Then it happened. After 30 years working in advertising and public relations, I was out of a job. It was 2009, the UK was flailing about in the longest recession on record and I was over 50, overdrawn and, to top it all, I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in five years. Who was going to employ me now?  After applying for as many appropriate roles as humanly possible, I couldn’t even get an acknowledgement let alone an interview. I knew it was going to be tough but not this tough and my CV’s not shabby.

Earning money fast was a big driver as my income was the only income (I’d divorced my husband in 2000 and he died in 2004), so I started looking for interim roles but, again, I couldn’t get to first base. “Hide your age,” friends advised, “then at least you can get an interview and you’ll nail it.” But how do you camouflage over 30 years’ experience? I had to face facts, getting a decent job in my 50s was as likely as Del Boy turning legit. In the end I did what anyone in my position would and became self-employed. I’ve been a corporate player all my life and the thought of starting my own business was terrifying. (Research from the national enterprise campaign shows 526,446 businesses were registered with Companies House in 2013, an increase of nine per cent on 2012. How many of those start-ups were fuelled by necessity rather than a burning ambition to be an entrepreneur?) Yet, almost immediately, I got business; enough to keep me busy and make me feel more secure not just financially, but emotionally. I’ve always put a brave face on things but in truth my confidence hadn’t just taken a knock, it had been all but pulverised. And, to top it all, I was developing lanyard- envy. A lanyard meant you had a job, a Christmas ‘do’ to go to, you belonged. But I still wasn’t earning enough so I started supplementing my income by writing articles on any and every subject imaginable. I also began providing presentation skills training to companies and became a consultant with a brand design agency. None of this fazed me as writing and presenting have been a large part of my working life. Then, through my PR work with a local radio station, I was asked to do some voice overs; this was a new experience for me, but an exciting one; if I was rubbish I wouldn’t be asked back, but I was. Shortly after, BBC Essex invited me to review the newspapers with James Whale on his breakfast show. This was very different to recording voice overs: the programme’s live, I’d have to be coherent at six o’clock in the morning and everything I said could draw an adverse response from listeners as well as James, so I was anxious. When the time came I loved it; still do.

Without realising it, I had gradually been breaching my own comfort zone to stay solvent but, and here’s the thing, getting a very different kind of job satisfaction. It wasn’t exactly pride in rising successfully to the challenge, although that was important, it was more the elation of having done a job well while loving it too. (It reminded me of how I felt as a trainee account executive after making my maiden presentation to clients. I glowed for days and stayed for ten years.) Then my brother-in-law, who runs a design company, suggested I become a model.  I didn’t immediately dismiss it, I was too flattered and surprised; who’d have thought my lack of height, thick waist and baggy eyes would be assets the fashion world would value? What he actually meant was that I might cut it as a model of the grey-haired-granny variety. This was uncharted territory for me and I wasn’t convinced there’d be work out there.


Around that time I wrote an article about going grey. It featured a full length picture of me wearing a red dress. After it appeared I was inundated with emails from women congratulating me on resisting the urge to reach for the hair dye, but the vast majority were more interested in where they could buy the dress. Perhaps modelling wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. Spurred on by my kids – who by now thought I was quite a cool mum – I eventually took the plunge, registered with a couple of agencies, started going to castings and getting gigs. This year I became a muse for Jade Spindler, a fashion undergraduate at Colchester Institute, and have just modelled a piece she designed specifically for me on television and on the runway. It’s part of the college’s “Silver Fox” project and I was invited to collaborate because of my age. I’ve also been on QVC modelling for a US hair brand and promoting the shopping channel’s Jewellery Month.

I’ve just turned 59 and, rather than think “Dear God, I’m a year away from 60!” I’m looking forward to what’s next. But I know the opportunities I get will be the ones I make: the world of work won’t come to me; employers are unlikely to develop age-blindness any time soon and I can’t see for the life of me how the Government can give me a break. So I’m helping me the best way I can by taking multi-tasking to the next level, not just to survive but to thrive.

My rules of ultimate multi-tasking

1. SWOT without the OT

You need to know your strengths and weaknesses. What do you like? What do you find fulfilling? You may have talents you’re unaware of. Have an open mind as you take an unemotional look at what makes ‘you’ tick.

2. Do your homework

Now you have an idea of the area(s) you want to tackle, find out everything you can about the industry/market/company. If you want to convince someone to part with their money for your services you must be well-informed.

3. Plan your assault

It’s hard to pick up the phone and persuade someone they would benefit from your input, so it pays to plan your assault strategy. What does this company need and how can you help? What will make them listen to you? Be brave, be persistent but don’t appear desperate.

4. Network, contacts are everything

80% of jobs aren’t advertised which means you have to network and make contacts. There are networking groups all over the country and on LinkedIn, but you need to get yourself ‘out there’ to be a contender.

5. Healthy mind and body

Multi-tasking requires physical and mental energy. Up your intake of fresh and unprocessed food and limit the bad (you know what they are). And exercise – yoga, walking, running – anything that gets your body working harder will make you fitter and sharper.


Posted in Brand values, Crisis management, Diversity, Don't lose reputation, Fashion, Honest broker, Silver Foxes | Leave a comment

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