agony aunt

Advice: I don't feel valued in my job

Valued

5 minute read

Q. I’ve always worked full-time in offices but gave up after having a child. I was sad as it was a job I loved but they couldn’t accommodate flexible working. I have since worked at my child’s preschool for five years. It’s convenient, and fits in with school hours, but I feel unhappy there. I struggle with generating activities as I naturally prefer structure and having set tasks.

I am good with kids and enjoy their company and my ‘key’ children flourish under my care, but my hours keep getting reduced, and I can only conclude that I’m not valued. Should I grin and bear it or look for something else? Name supplied

A. One of the symptoms of feeling stuck is that our thinking becomes black and white. It sounds as if you see a choice between being there for your kids and feeling happy in your own work. I would argue that a mother who is flourishing in her own life has more energy to share with her children, and is setting them up to pursue fulfilment themselves.

If your current job is making you feel less confident, then the challenge becomes how to give yourself a mini-boost so that you can see more possibilities. One step would be to reconnect with what it was you loved in your old job – was it the people, the type of work, the environment, or perhaps the purpose? Walk yourself through a typical day in the job you loved and identify which parts gave you a buzz.

Although that particular job could not offer flexibility five years ago, similar roles may have emerged with a friendlier structure. This three-step process works for most change: first, look for the bright spots and move towards them; second, talk to at least one ally who believes in you; third, remind yourself of your resources – you managed to get your current job from scratch; what process did you use and how can you do something similar now?

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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careers

by Psychologies

Advice: I'm concerned about my friend's weed smoking

Weed smoking

4 minute read

Q. My buddy has started smoking dope a lot and I am worried about her. We went to school together and now we are both at college. She’s always been laid-back about work, but now she has started missing many lectures and I think she may fail this year. She is hanging around with a different crowd – they are OK and not bad people, but they all smoke too.

I’ve tried talking to her but she brushes me off as if I don’t get it. I don’t know what to do. Should I tell her parents? Name supplied

A. It sounds as if this situation is causing more distress for you than it is for your friend. That doesn’t mean you should ignore it, but it would help to feel less responsible for this all on your own.

I don’t think that your friend’s parents are the best first call – she is likely to dismiss their views, and feel that she has lost you as a friend as well.

The best neutral source of drug-related information that I know is the education service Talk to Frank. It’s a government initiative to reduce the use of both legal and illegal drugs, by giving young people more skills and confidence for an informed conversation.

The website uses straightforward language and has a specific section on ‘how to talk to your friend about drug use’. They suggest that you pick a time when you are both sober, and a place which is private and familiar in case either one of you becomes upset. Allow plenty of time, aim to listen more than you talk and expect it to take more than one conversation.

The main point is to keep your friendship at the centre, and avoid talking in a way which assumes that you know better, even if you think you do. You cannot force your friend to change, but do remember that most people overcome their drug use before serious harm is caused.

I wonder whether the most constructive thing might be to focus your effort on the non-drug-taking part of her life – suggest that you meet in a cafe or library and do coursework together, or hang out in whatever way has always been normal for you. This may also help you to feel that your friend’s choices don’t have to take over your life too.

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Relationships

by Psychologies

Advice: I've lost my drive at work and need a new direction

Drive at work

5 minute read

Q. Since university, I have worked in the field of my choice, and have been modestly successful. However now, in my mid 40s, I find myself suddenly with no enthusiasm for my work. This seems to have come out of nowhere, though perhaps it has been creeping up for a few years.

I realise that maybe I need a new direction but I have no idea what, and I don’t want to just walk away from what I have already achieved. Name supplied

A. Successful change needs ‘bright spots, small wins and tweaks to your environment’. These phrases all come from the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath (Cornerstone, £9.99). When you look around you, there will be some things that are working better than others – your bright spots. Even though you lack energy overall, what are the moments when you feel a little boost, maybe with particular people or tasks? Focus your attention on these tiny sparks; which direction are they in, and how can you make any of them grow?

Small wins need to be meaningful, within immediate reach and give you a sense of ‘I can do at least that’. The tweaks to your environment are doing whatever will support the habits you want to build – such as laying out your gym gear the night before to eliminate the hunt for socks in the morning.

At the moment, this feels like a big problem, with an unspoken belief that the verdict on your life as a whole is being written right now. It’s more likely that you’ll look back on it as a slight change of direction. I love this quote from Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter – ‘Everything can look like a failure in the middle’.  

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Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Careers

by Psychologies

Playground politics: Our children's argument has damaged our friendship

2 minute read

Q. I’m friends with the mum of my son’s best buddy at school, and we used to meet regularly. However, there was an issue between the boys, both seven, and she spoke to the school without talking to me first, which resulted in my son being punished.

I am annoyed that she did not approach me in the first instance. The boys have made up, but we’re avoiding each other. I miss her, but I don’t think I can trust her. What can I do? Name supplied

A. I’d love to see ‘how to have a difficult conversation’ on the school curriculum. Your friend’s fear of the tricky chat was so great that she didn’t talk to you at all; you don’t know how to say you’re annoyed, and both of you are struggling over what happens next.

It’s easy to get stuck on analysing facts, feelings and meaning – a way of putting off the moment when you have to smile, take a breath and speak. Could you say: ‘I know the boys have made up and I want us to. When’s a good time to talk?’

The most useful thing to practise ahead of time is understanding yourself: how would you describe the chain of events: how did you feel, what is the deeper meaning for you – is it about motherhood, friendship or your relationship with the school?

If you have self-awareness, you can create a space where your friend can share her answers to the same questions. The aim is not to prove your point, but to understand hers. Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster, £17.99), says the main reason we struggle to listen is the fear of having our minds changed. It might feel like a risk to bring conflict into the open, but leaving things unspoken is an even quicker route to losing trust, as you’ve found. 

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Relationships

by Psychologies

I want a divorce but I'm scared

Divorce

4 minute read

Q. I am married with four teenage children. I am successful at work – but exist in what I would call a failed marriage. I thought it was normal to have no physical relationship as he had no interest, but I can now see that it has devastated me; I feel unwanted, undeserving and unloved.

I did not believe that I had the strength to live a life outside the family home, but now I am trying to find a way to generate my own happiness. However, I feel miserable most days and can’t even bear to look at my husband. I need to find a way to move on but I worry about my children, my finances and how I will cope. What can I do? Name supplied

A. Perhaps, like a lot of us, you believe the time will come when the way is clear, there are no worries and the universe says clearly: ‘start the journey’. It’s usually the opposite – the way does not become clear until we pick up our worries and start anyway.

By way of example, I’ve been working independently for 11 years since my husband died – without a ‘proper’ job or business plan. I still have times when I wake up worried, or someone asks me about the future and my mouth dries up, even while another part of me knows that every panic so far has passed.

So, my first message to you is: you will worry, but you will cope. Those things can coexist. The confidence you have gained at work is feeding your clarity at home, and that will continue. What might be useful is a friendly, encouraging voice in your ear and perhaps some help to read the map. That could be through Relate, which supports people to improve their relationships, even if it means the end of a marriage.

I want to mention two other considerations. The first is the need to carry first-aid supplies for your children, which means it’s crucial to have support just for you. The second is that couples do succeed in rebuilding unhappy sex lives. When sex is going well, it’s only part of life; when it’s going badly, it dominates, with all those feelings of devastation that you describe.

Another way you could approach this is through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, and a therapist to help you communicate about sex and support you if you decide to leave. Many women find a healthy relationship with their sexuality is a great source of power.

Being an empowered mother is the greatest gift you can give your children, so please take whatever small step you can in that direction.

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Relationships

by Psychologies

What to do with my nightmare neighbours

nightmare neighbours

2 minute read

Q. Noise upsets me and a neighbour is doing building work at weekends, which is against council rules. My boyfriend says I should let it go but then I lose my temper with him too! I want to learn to be more relaxed and deal with this better, but it feels like an assault. Help! Name supplied

A. The soundtrack to our lives does affect us – the screechy violins in The Birds make us want to escape, while soothing music slows our heartbeat. Your reaction sounds strong, so check with your GP to rule out a medical condition.

The Noise Help website was set up by Sarinne Fox, an engineer and musician. Her home page asks: ‘Feeling assaulted by noise?’ She defines noise as unwanted sound. There is a special section on noisy neighbours, which points out the same approach will not work across the board. They could be angelic (‘So sorry, we’ll stop!’), clueless or aggressive. If you check how other neighbours are affected, you could find support to ask the council to intervene, or the beginnings of a community group to create new guidelines. 

In the meantime, small steps to reduce the impact will create space for negotiation and logic. You may have heard of white noise, which brings together other sounds so the annoying one is less intrusive; pink noise, which reduces higher frequencies, and brown noise or nature recordings, such as the sea or rainfall. Introducing these at home and finding ways to get back a sense of control will be both quicker and longer lasting than relying on someone else to change. 

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Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Relationships

by Psychologies

Am I destined to be lonely forever?

lonely

3 minute read

Q. I’m 45 and feel lost and alone. I’ve been single for years. I’m educated and a hard worker, yet I’m only offered jobs at the bottom end in terms of pay. All the ‘normal’ things that other women seem to take for granted, like a partner and children, seem out of reach for me.

I’ve had years of therapy but nothing changes. I have spoken to doctors who say I’m depressed and put me on antidepressants, but that didn’t solve anything. What can I do? Name supplied

A. I know that what you have written will strike a chord with readers, as it does with me, so thank you for putting your thoughts into words. I’ve been thinking about your letter while listening to The Compassionate Mind (Little, Brown, £12.99), a book on neuroscience and the spirituality and evolution of the human brain. Author Paul Gilbert argues that our minds respond to self-criticism in the same way they do to an external threat. The instinct to hide at the back of the cave is designed to keep us safe from predators, but it’s not a great way to escape our thoughts.

It’s worth trying again, through your GP, to find a combination of drugs and talking therapy that works. The right job, more money, a change of environment, all these might make a difference, but I believe a therapist you feel safe with would help more. Warmth, gentleness and kindness will help your recovery, and you might need to experience this through therapy before you can offer it to yourself.

To directly answer your questions: No, I do not believe either in destiny or losers. I believe in our capacity to learn and change the way we tell our own story. I do not believe in ‘one big answer’ – that would be like wanting to eat one big meal and never feel hunger again. Please keep taking baby steps, seeking help and sharing your fears.

Be part of our tribe

Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Relationships

by Psychologies

My boyfriend drinks too much

Drinks too much

3 minute read

Q. I love my boyfriend and he’s kind. We disagree on some political issues but that’s OK; our backgrounds are different so I can see that in context. The problem is, sometimes, especially when he’s been drinking, he says things I find offensive; he can make racist and sexist jokes. I pick him up on it and he can get quite cross and tells me not to censor him.

He is a caring, decent man and would be the last person to treat anyone with prejudice – to him, it is about humour and being himself, but it upsets me and makes me question what sort of man he is. How can I talk to him about this without us arguing? Name supplied

A. I think of a racist joke as being like a marker buoy. When swimmers or sailors see a big orange inflatable bobbing on the waves, we know it’s telling us something: the limit it’s safe to swim or a hidden hazard perhaps. Both you and your boyfriend see the buoy, but you disagree with what it means.

For you, it might be the limits of his kindness and for him it might be about protecting the bonds with his friends.

It’s not romantic, but a large part of creating a relationship is managing differences. The aim is not always to resolve them, but to understand. A leading researcher into couples, John Gottman, says that up to two thirds of arguments in a longterm relationship will be linked to something deeper that won’t change. One way of putting it is: when choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.

What problems can you live with, and how do you navigate the ones you’ve got?

In this case, I suggest picking a time when there’s no alcohol, and you can tap into a mindset of looking for clues beyond the obvious. It almost doesn’t matter what the answers are, but practising better questions and listening are skills neither one of you will regret.

In this link, the therapist suggests that we need to be kind, curious and humble. It might help to start your question with ‘I wonder’: ‘I wonder what it means to you when I get upset about these jokes.’

Any woman who identifies as political will be accused of having no sense of humour, because jokes are one way to decide who is in or out of our gang. Please don’t let the fear of what you might discover stop you from asking the questions.

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Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Relationships

by Psychologies

I have no friends at work

No friends

2 minute read

Q. I began a new job six months ago and I like the work, but I haven’t made any friends. There is not much staff turnover and it is quite cliquey. People are not unkind, but they will go off to lunch in little groups and never invite me. How can I integrate and form relationships? Name supplied

A. This sounds tough. I have not worked in an office for years, but the main thing that would tempt me back would be social contact and having a laugh with colleagues. I have three thoughts – get curious, reverse the focus, and reach outside before coming back in.

Get curious: If there is one person you connect with slightly more, could you find an opportunity to share your observations and ask for feedback? For example, ‘I’ve noticed this happening; you’ve been here longer than me, what do you suggest?’ Make it clear you’d like constructive feedback about whether there is anything you could do differently.

Reverse the focus: This would mean inviting others to lunch or a coffee – rather than waiting to be invited.

By ‘reach outside’, I mean finding people who work in a similar field or organisation or even an office nearby, and building your own network of connections which will make you even more of an asset, both commercially and socially. The principle in all of these is ‘givers’ gain’: by offering more, you will be opening yourself up to more offers in return.

Expanding your network will help you decide, ultimately, if this is a deal-breaker. You would not be alone in that decision – more of us change jobs for people reasons than for strictly work-related ones.

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careers

by Psychologies

How to deal with family rejection

Family rejection

4 minute read

Q. Seven years ago, my niece died. Her daughter went to live with her father and his girlfriend but it didn’t work out so, for three years, she lived with me and my husband and we did a lot for her.

Two years ago, my great-niece got a boyfriend and moved out. Now, we don’t see her, she’s had a baby and is back with the people who didn’t want to know her. We’ve never been invited over. Am I being unreasonable for feeling upset? Should I let her go? Name supplied

A. Is it possible to find some space between feeling upset and deciding to let her go? It’s been a tumultuous seven years for everyone – grief, house moves, shifts in loyalty and now a new baby. It might take time before you and your great-niece get this all in perspective. In the meantime, she will be getting daily reminders of what her own mother did for her, and she can’t ask her for help.

Could you bring yourself to take the initiative, perhaps like this: ‘I’m passing your way, could I pop in for 15 minutes? I’d love to say hello.’

I’m not asking you to ignore your feelings of hurt, but find a way to deal with them separately. I wonder if there is something going on about being a mother or not being a mother that is making this particularly painful for you. It may be helpful to write some of that down, talk to a trusted friend or seek counselling.

The title of aunt can be acquired by blood ties or given to acknowledge a relationship that has grown over time. You have earned it both ways.

You have leeway to decide what that means. In the words of existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom – how could you construct a regret-free life for yourself? Alternatively, how does a great-aunt act if she also wants to be a fairy godmother?

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Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Relationships

by Psychologies