Be Kind (Charles Bukowski)

we are always asked
to understand the other person’s
viewpoint
no matter how
out-dated
foolish or
obnoxious.

one is asked
to view
their total error
their life-waste
with
kindliness,
especially if they are
aged.

but age is the total of
our doing.
they have aged
badly
because they have
lived
out of focus,
they have refused to
see.

not their fault?

whose fault?
mine?

I am asked to hide
my viewpoint
from them
for fear of their
fear.

age is no crime

but the shame
of a deliberately
wasted
life

among so many
deliberately
wasted
lives

is.

Money. The one thing they don’t teach you about in school

Throughout school, college and university, we gain vast amounts of knowledge. We learn incredible amounts, about topics ranging from geography to food preparation. There is, however, one gaping hole in our education and an awful amount of people suffer as a result of this omission. What we are not being taught is the basics of managing money, and this oversight is negatively affecting countless people.

I am of the firm belief that our educational establishments should be preparing people for the world in which we live, but too many are stubbornly sticking with an outdated curriculum. This means that young adults are entering the world of work, or higher education, without an understanding of how to effectively manage their money. Opening and maintaining a bank account, understanding overdrafts, loans and credit cards and making sense of payslips is what young people need to be taught. Without this, there is a danger of being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous employer who withholds pay, or a money lender who charges extortionate amounts of interest.

Young people need to be made aware of:

  • Bank accounts. This means that they learn how to open a bank account and maintain it, how to deposit and withdraw money, online banking, mobile banking, setting up direct debits and managing overdrafts. It would also help to advise young people about switching bank accounts, and when that may be advisable.
  • Taxes. What are taxes and how do they work? AT what earning thresholds do taxes rise and by how much? What is self-assessment and when is that applicable?
  • Credit Cards. How to apply for a credit card, and it’s impact on your credit score. Understanding interest and other charges, and making repayments.
  • Creating an invoice. The world of work is changing and there is a growing trend towards self-employment, freelancing and entrepreneurship. Even if their desired career path involves full-time employment in an organisation, it is important that young people know how to claim hours worked on a project and issue invoices.
  • Payslips/ P45s/ P60s. Often full of technical terms and numbers, it is essential that people are able to make sense of these statements of their earnings. People need to know how much they have been paid, and how much has been taken in taxes and other deductions.
  • Pensions. Even young people need to know about pensions, because this can affect decisions made about their long term future. It is important that people know about the different types of pension and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Managing finances. Regardless of whether they are starting a degree or entering employment, young people need to learn how to become organised and take control over their finances. The ease with which credit cards and loans can be obtained is worrying. I myself have fallen into this trap before, borrowing thousands of pounds on several credit cards for nice clothes and fancy holidays. Yes I had wonderful experiences and nice things, but the debt and its repayment was not fun. It got to the point where I was working 2 jobs only to see least 70% of my earnings go towards paying off my card debt.  The best way to avoid the many pitfalls is to become organised. Save your payslips or invoices in a folder for easy reference. Use a tracker app to keep a record of your weekly outgoings and incomings. Or just write them in a notebook. It’s worth bearing in mind that you need to fully understand how much you are spending and earning if you want to be in control of your financial wellbeing.

 

The good news is that there is plenty of advice freely available for everyone. Some schools are starting to deal with some money matters as part of Business Studies courses. If you don’t feel that this goes far enough, write a letter or start a petition asking that the school incorporate more teaching on the subject of money in their curriculum or hire specialists who can offer this in the form of workshops.

Universities also offer plenty of help and advice but you often have to be proactive and seek it. Thankfully, this is no more difficult than speaking to a Helpdesk Advisor (or whatever your particular institution calls them). An appointment will then be booked with a specialist who can answer any finance related questions.

Outside of educational settings, further help is available for everybody. Naturally, the internet hosts countless blogs and websites which can help you to better understand money. If, however, you prefer to speak to somebody in person, there are countless debt-relief and financial advice charities who would be keen to help you in any way they can.

Please see below for some of the leading UK charities which deal with money matters. Search in your local area for more options, and don’t be put off by the scary “debt” word. While their primary focus is helping people manage their debts, charities also provide education on all money-related matters. After all, the better people understand money, the less likely it is that they will become trapped and burdened by debt.

Money, and managing it, can appear very scary but it doesn’t have to be. If there is something which you do not understand, seek help, because ignorance in money-related matters can only hurt you if left untreated.

The pain and pleasure of the job hunting process: Recruitment Agencies

With Summer now over, there are an army of recent graduates and school-leavers about to descend on the job market. Having likely spent August recharging their batteries on holiday, or  updating their personal statements and preparing for potential interview questions, they are fired up and ready. Moreover, it is now that job vacancies are starting to appear with more frequency, and therefore the perfect time to share some of my experiences and observations from years spent navigating the recruitment minefield.

In my current role, I have sat on a number of interview panels, but now that I am looking for a new challenge, I am also experiencing being on the other side of the table again. It is for this reason that I would like to pass on some of my experiences of the process, starting with recruitment agencies.

Living in the digital age as we do, passive recruitment is growing. This is the term used to describe LinkedIn and the numerous job boards and sites to which we commonly upload our CVs. We fill in the application forms, specify our preferences, upload a CV and wait to be contacted by recruiters with a fitting vacancy. With our lives so busy, this feels like a blessing as it saves countless hours which would’ve been spent visiting the careers pages of companies which interest us and searching for a suitable role.

It is important to stress that there are two very different types of recruiter, the first of which works for an agency servicing one or more industries and countless companies therein. Companies pay large sums to these agencies to create the job adverts and source candidates. If the candidates interviewed are successful, further commission is paid to the agency. So, it is fair to say that getting as many candidates signed up to the agency is a big deal and potentially worth a lot of money. Note here, that profit is prioritised over the needs of the candidates. The other is an internal recruiter, who recruit solely for the organisation in which they are based. In this capacity, there are still KPIs to be met and bonuses to be earned, but the focus is on finding the right person for the roles. It is the former which I would like to address below.

It is all too easy to hear the word “recruitment” and picture an industry geared towards matching suitable candidates with jobs. The idealist will believe that recruiters have their best interest at heart. Some agencies do employ this approach, but in my personal experience they are the exception to the rule.

Recruitment is a sales role. The salary is low, but the commission and bonuses are very attractive. It is for this reason that KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) take priority over people and their needs. If you doubt this, then please do an internet search for Recruitment Consultant job adverts. Yep, it’s a sales role.

Having long been curious as to the workings of the recruitment industry, I interviewed for a number of roles in recruitment and even worked shortly in the role. What I experienced was far from reassuring. At their worst, recruiters can be manipulative and economical with the truth. I witnessed the use of fabricated job adverts in order to entice people to register with the agency, but more alarmingly, I saw people being encouraged to leave full-time jobs in order to take up short term contracts. People, often with children and mortgages, were being convinced to leave stable but unchallenging jobs for a new role which would give them more responsibility and a higher salary. What they weren’t told was that they would be leaving a permanent role for a short-term contract and the uncertainty which that would bring. This behaviour was not uncommon, as targets had to be met in order for the consultants to keep their jobs and secure their commission.

While the picture above could be viewed as pretty bleak, this is far from the truth. There are a large number of very good, conscientious recruiters out there. This is, in part, due to the large body of business research which points to the importance of empathising with others and working hard to forge relationships. Those who are able to do both successfully, tend to progress further in their careers.

I have found that by asking yourself the below questions, it becomes easier to differentiate between the good, the bad and the ugly of recruitment;

  • Has the recruiter actually read my cv/ application? Recruiters read, or are passed, hundreds of cvs daily. How well do they know yours? It is unrealistic to expect that they know it well, but if you have to repeat everything to them, then alarm bells should start ringing.
  • Is the recruiter actually listening to what you say, or are they pushing you to visit the office and complete the registration process? Are they discussing roles, location and the strengths/ weaknesses of your cv? Are they open about your prospects and how they might be able to help you?
  • Is the recruiter trying to build a relationship with you? There will likely be several emails and phone calls exchanged before you visit the agency to complete the registration process. During this time, are you dealing with one person who is looking to establish a working relationship with you? Or are you communicating with somebody different every time?

Recruitment consultants offer a potentially great help with the job searching process. That said, I would strongly advise exercising caution in your interactions with them. Unfortunately, the high commission on offer can lead to unscrupulous behaviour among some in this industry. Thankfully, they are seemingly a dying breed.

Please don’t be put off from the use of recruitment agencies, but I would ask that you proceed with caution and eyes wide open. While I would always advise taking calculated risks in life, as they can either propel you forward or provide a valuable learning experience. In this instance, however, I would ask that you don’t rely solely on one agency for your job search. Speak to as many as you can, and sign up for several of the most promising. They can prove to be a great help, but at the same time do not give up on the direct approach.

It is worth bearing in mind that some organisations do not advertise vacancies through agencies as they want to avoid the associated costs. So, in light of this, don’t stop directly applying to the companies which interest you. The internal recruiters working for this company do have, after all, a vested interest in filling vacancies with the strongest candidates.

I hope that you have found this useful, and have some food for thought. I wish you the best of luck in your search.

Why are we still so quick to label and judge people?!

As a society we are still too quick to label people and judge others. As discussed in the last post on judgement, this can lead to missed opportunities for learning, development and discovery. The worst part of this is that it is all completely avoidable. Humans are not robots made the same way in the same factory, but we are all individuals. In our own way, we are all unique but when we come together and share our experiences and knowledge, the world becomes a much richer place. We must, however, set aside our judgements and preconceptions in order to approach people with an open mind if this is to happen.

Recently, while re-reading 2 excellent novels, it dawned on me that there is one paricular group of people who have so much to offer but are being held back by the labels, judgements and limitations which society places on them.

The two novels in question are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes. While the stories and settings are very different, both novels are narrated by teenage boys on the Autism Spectrum and provide a fascinating insight into how they both make sense of the world. In The Eagle Tree, the narrator March Wong is described as being autistic, but in The Curious Incident it isn’t clearly stated. There is no label attached to Christopher John Francis Boone in the latter, but it is hinted that this may be Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism. Christopher, though, just describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”.

I won’t bore you with my attempt at a book review, as there are already a number of excellent reviews available online, but I would rather share with you what I came to realise through these novels. Both novels, while raising awareness of what life is like on the Autism Spectrum, primarily deal with perception and how we view the world and the people in it. March Wong and Christopher Boone are both very gifted, highly skilled and intelligent teenage boys, with an incredible amount of self-awareness. Reading both novels, I couldn’t help but wonder just how much each of the boys would have to offer in the real world, and whether they would be given a chance.

Of course, the novels are fictional, but the issues and questions which they raise are very real and relevant. The stories of Christopher and March show us the dangers of labelling and judging people. In the real world, we don’t get the same insight into a person’s thoughts and feelings that we do when we read a novel. I have yet to meet anybody who walks around narrating their daily life out loud. The only way we get to know, and better understand other people is through communicating with them and understanding them.

Herein lies the problem. Instead of approaching all others with an open mind as to where an interaction may lead, we are still too quick to label and judge other people before deciding whether to speak to them. People are labelled throughout their lives, particularly at school. These labels which are placed on them, and the ones which they choose for themselves, have a lasting impact. How many people have the potential to really make a chance in business or philanthropy, but instead find themselves held back by the labels and judgements placed on them?!

Each and every one of us is the same, and by same I mean human. A person’s mind and their view of the world is shaped by the influences that they are exposed to early in life, and the influences which they choose later in life. Some people, however  view and experience the world differently and they should be embraced rather than marginalised. By approaching all people with the same open mind, tolerance and understanding we can gain perspective and so much more.

We all have unique personalities, but unfortunately some of us get labelled, judged and cast aside. This just begs the question, why not celebrate the individual and the unique and varied gifts, talents, abilities, skills and views which they have? There is an incredible amount which we can learn from each other, if we only embrace others rather than label or judge.

Simply put, our attitudes and perceptions need to change. Rather than label another person and jump to preconceived notions or conclusions, treat them instead with empathy and try to understand them. Just because somebody experiences and views the world differently to you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from each other, and help each other. Who knows where life may lead you when you approach other people with an open mind?!

On confronting the past and learning from it.

America has recently seen a number protests and debates taking place regarding the removal of Confederate statues, and it gave me food for thought. It’s about time that the issue was brought up and discussed because this is a conversation which is painful and uncomfortable, but necessary. Why am I writing about this, though?! I felt compelled to write about it because we are all fighting a similar battle in our own personal lives. Everybody has a past, and within it there are many instances which we now look back on with regret, embarrassment, anger or disgust. The question is; do we confront these events and look at what led to their passing so that we can learn from them? Or do we simply pretend as though they never happened at all?!

With regards to the statues, I understand both sides of the argument, and both parties have valid arguments. Those who want the statues removed argue that they are a painful reminder of a very dark period in America’s history. The interests of the rich and powerful led to a race of people being brutally enslaved and suffering unspeakable pain and suffering. Greed and the pursuit of money took priority over empathy. Furthermore, there are a minority of warped individuals who glorify and celebrate the atrocities of this period, and actually believe in racial superiority. Words fail me as to how people like this still exist, but they crave attention and we mustn’t give it to them. The other side of the argument is that the statues provide a warning and a lesson. The Confederates fought to preserve the status quo and protect the oppressors committing these unspeakable acts on other humans for a profit, so their statues are painful to see in public places. It is important, however, that every trace of them is not removed and forgotten about, because as long as the statues remain their victims have a voice and are remembered. They provide a warning as to the dangers of prioritising profit over people, something which is still relevant today. They also serve as a memorial to those who suffered during this brutal period.

The past is often littered with painful reminders but I don’t believe that shying away from them is healthy. They needs to be confronted if we we are to make sure they never happens again. If we are able to look at a particular period in a nation’s, or our own personal, history and identify the actions and decisions which may have led to whatever happened, we become better equipped to ensure that it never happens again. We become aware of certain triggers or warning signs, which we can act on to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Failure to confront it only leads to the same issues potentially arising again later.

It is important not to dwell on past events too long as this will hinder us as we try to move forward. We do, however, need to reflect on our past before we try to bury it and move on. In this way, we move forward stronger and wiser.

In order to provide the best future for its people, a nation must confront it’s past, no matter how painful.or uncomfortable. There are valuable lessons to be learned. Much is the same with us and past events. Doing our best to forget about the bad times, or pretending as though the events never happened, is certainly the easiest path to take but it really doesn’t help us to learn and grow. If we want to lead fulfilling and successful lives, we need to confront our pasts and learn from them. In this way, we learn from our mistakes so that we can avoid repeating them in the future.

Forget the mistake but remember the lesson

The good thing about bad decisions…

..is that they can provide a valuable learning opportunity. IF you heed their lessons, that is. As with failure in general, bad decisions should be regarded as a necessary inconvenience which have in them the power for good. This is all on one condition though, that you not only learn from these mistakes but also put that learning into practice so that it doesn’t happen again.

Hence the importance on reflecting on your journey, and the direction in which you are headed. When you have a positive outcome, reflect on the decisions, actions and behaviours which led to the successful result. This will allow you to identify which aspects of the decision making process and behaviours to continue, or seek to improve, in order to prolong success. On the other hand, reflecting on what may have led to a negative outcome is just as valuable. It highlights flaws in the decision-making process and behaviours which can be avoided in the future. Rather than just blaming everything on bad luck, ask yourself if there was anything you could’ve done differently; are there resources at your disposal which you could’ve used to achieve a more favourable outcome? Could you have devoted more time, attention or effort? Are there warning signs which were missed?

Reflection is not easy, especially after a negative outcome, but the benefit is immense. When you are able to identify areas for improvement in your decision-making process, and address them, you develop a more proactive approach to life. Life is no longer something which just happens to you, and to which you react. You have, to a certain extent, ownership over your future and no longer leave everything to chance. In turn, you become resilient and feel in control of your destiny. You also feel better able to deal with life’s ups and downs.

Self-awareness also increases as a result of reflection. You become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears. Not only that, but with time and effort, alongside the ability to identify decisions which were good or bad, you also come to understand what drove you to make those decisions. This stops your ego from driving you to continue chasing losses or making bad decisions.

Improving your decision-making process is as important in business as it is in our personal development. Don’t just take my word for it though;

Part of making good decisions in business is recognizing the poor decisions you’ve made and why they were poor. I’ve made lots of mistakes. I’m going to make more. It’s the name of the game. You don’t want to expect perfection in yourself. You want to strive to do your best. It’s too demanding to expect perfection in yourself

Warren Buffett

Why are we so averse to certain traits in others?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”  ~ Carl Jung

I recently read this quote from Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and wanted to share my reflections and what we can potentially learn from it.

Essentially, Carl Jung believed that, when we reflect on that which irritates us in other people, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, which leads to an increased self-awareness. This can only be a good thing as we continue on our journeys towards our goals. Achieving your goals is a wonderful feeling, but the most important part of the process is the journey itself, in which you learn who you really are, your strengths and weaknesses and your likes and dislikes. The more self-aware we become, the more we will learn and grow as we strive towards our goals.

Being naturally social creatures, we come to understand ourselves best through our relationships and interactions with other people. Therefore, it stands to reason that, whether consciously or not, we surround ourselves with people whose characteristics and behaviours are a match for our own.

That said, it is often the case that certain characteristics in someone’s personality trigger a negative reaction us, and we often find ourselves at a loss as to why we experience such an aversion to these traits.

Why does this happen?! Is our subconscious sending us a message?!

It can be argued that we experience an aversion to certain traits in others because we see things within others which we recognise within ourselves and are not happy about. In this instance, there is a message being sent, that we need to take some time for reflection. We can only be triggered by something we know, understand and have experienced ourselves, whether we admit it to ourselves or not.

The traits which we tend to dislike in others are the ones which we dislike in ourselves and may be suppressing. We then tend to judge these characteristics harshly in others, but when we stand in judgement of others, we inadvertently expose our true selves.

The people with whom we interact are showing us who we really are, and are presenting  an opportunity to learn, reflect and grow. Every person we come into contact with is showing up at the perfect time in our lives to draw attention to something we need to reflect on within ourselves and learn from.

Rather than focusing on the negative feelings which the traits of another might stir within you, look for an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow.

 

Storytelling and why it matters

Long before recorded history, early humans communicated through cave paintings and oral storytelling. Throughout the ages, however, the method of storytelling has evolved from cave paintings to songs to novels, movies, social media and everything in-between. In spite of this, the art of storytelling has withstood the test of time and evolution, because it is our greatest communication tool and remains as important as ever.

Why is storytelling still so relevant?

Humans are social creatures and through stories, we learn how to relate to other people and empathise with them. They are an intrinsic part of societies and cultures, with each story serving a purpose, from entertaining to informing to conveying a message to changing attitudes and behaviours.

A good story has the power to surprise us and give us food for thought, and will stay with us, making it easier to relate to and remember ideas and concepts. Done well, a good story can help you to connect with someone on a deeper, more emotional level, giving them a reason to empathise or care.

In order to tell a good story, it helps if you are a good storyteller. A good storyteller gets attention, and people will listen to what they have to say. This is one of the reasons why the art of storytelling is gaining importance in the business arena. More than just another tool for marketing and sales, businesses can benefit greatly from the ability to tell good stories. Externally, a good story can increase a company’s reputation and reach, while helping prospective clients to better understand the company and its ethos, vision and people. Internally, there are also a number of benefits, from helping to build or reinforce a company’s culture to connecting colleagues in new and meaningful ways.

In an increasingly competitive employment and labour market, the ability to tell good stories is becoming an increasingly desirable skill to possess.

What is your story?