Work Matters: Alice Judge-Talbot

Alice Judge-Talbot is a blogger, Telegraph columnist and digital marketing consultant. I first became aware of Alice after reading her brilliantly titled article ‘We Are Not Sodding Mumpreneurs‘. I knew instantly she was my kind of woman. Her blog morethantoast.org is a wonderful insight into family life as a working single parent. I love Alice’s honest, self-effacing approach to writing about her own experiences, which she shares so candidly I feel like I know her. Also, Alice is also something of a rare breed in the world of ‘mummy-bloggers’ – someone you can actually admire for her style and sparkle because she manages to convey authenticity in its true sense (not the contrived version increasingly displayed on social media). If you don’t already follow her then I suggest you remedy that immediately.

Why does work matter to you?

On a practical level I’m a single mum, so the sole breadwinner (and only adult!) in my household: work is pretty important for our survival. Knowing that the livelihood of my two kids and I rests solely on me used to be terrifying but I now find it empowering. It definitely keeps me motivated. Work otherwise is the one thing that keeps me sane. Like many I know I found the entry into motherhood tough to handle, and I love that I have a purpose and motivation away from my kids.

Describe in three words what professional success means to you…

Waking up happy.

What would be your dream job/project/company you’d like to work for?

Good question! I’m lucky enough to work for Waitrose on a regular basis, and they’re one of my favourite brands in the world. I pinch myself that I get paid to create recipes and write for them – dream come true. I’ve been working on a book for the last five years and it finally seems to be coming together. The day I sell that will definitely be a peak.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

I’ve always wanted to work in some capacity online, ever since I got the internet at the age of 14. But back when I started my career 13 years ago these jobs (unless they were in web design) were really hard to come by. So I started my office-based work in recruitment, which remains the toughest job I’ve ever done.

What did that experience teach you?

Resilience! Working in any kind of sales you have to have a thick skin, and recruitment helped me develop one. Now, I’m never scared of a difficult phone call or tough client meeting – they will never be as hard as the sales calls of my early twenties.

What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?

Running the award-winning digital marketing campaign for the release of Harper Lee’s book, Go Set a Watchman. It was such hard work but a really wonderful product to help launch, and my campaign led to record-breaking sales of the book for HarperCollins. That was pretty cool.

If you could go back in time who would you seek career advice from and why?

To be honest, I absolutely adore Hillary Clinton and think she is so inspirational when it comes to promoting women in the workplace. I was lucky enough to see her speak recently, and if I could seek career advice from one person it would be her.

Who is your present day career heroine and why?

It’s very inspiring to see mothers who are breaking the mould and creating the new wave of entrepreneurs: doing something they love around their kids and making money from it. There are too many to count: Gemma of Mutha.Hood, Steph of Don’t Buy Her Flowers, Hayley from Southwood Social Hub. I love seeing such brilliant women around me excel and succeed, it really spurs me on.

What words of professional wisdom would you impart to the next generation of women

Never give up on your dreams! Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough.

Have you ever considered trying something completely different career wise, if so what?

I really don’t know what else I’d do. I really enjoy my career and it’s diversified naturally with the wants and needs of my family (and me!). The only other thing I wanted to consistently do was be in Hollyoaks, so we’ll see if they come calling 😉

I survived the summer holidays

The summer holidays are a metaphor for everything that is great, and ‘challenging’, about parenting. A 6-8 week period of intense family time which rouses emotions ranging from serene contentment: “oh how wonderful to have such precious time to creating everlasting memories”. To scenes of complete and utter irritation: “when will this fresh hell be OVER?”. That kind of thing.

I love my little munchkins, but my word do they test my patience. Over the summer three ‘phrases’ have echoed around my head (and I’m sure yours too). So, as a way of drawing a virtual line in the sand and to signal the beginning of a new school year, I have suggested some solutions for future holidays. Don’t forget October half-term will soon be upon us!

P.S. I’m considering introducing a reward based system (blackmail) for blatant misuse of these phrases for future holidays.

1) Indistriminate use of the word ‘mummy’
We wait months for them to say it and then wish they would find literally any another way of starting a conversation. This summer I estimate the daily tally of “mummy” with no valid follow up question or coherent statement has probably reached 50 a day (it could be more). The word makes me recoil before they’ve even finished uttering it “mmm-uuu-mmm…”. I’ve developed a nervous tick, but on the plus side I’ve honed my razor sharp response “YES?!?” down to a nanosecond.

Solution:
Refuse to answer to “mummy” unless there is a genuine question that only you can answer. My default now is “is it a question daddy could answer?”. Answer is usually, but relunctantally “yes”. Also, suggest that asking a question without prefixing it with “mummy” will elicit a more favourable response. Deduct imaginary points for blatant misuse of the word just because they like hearing their own voice. How many times have you heard “mummy” on repeat and it’s clear they’ve either forgotten the question or they’ve developing a form of tourettes.

2) “I’m bored.”

This is a tricky one because I’m sure as a child I was deeply annoying. I find myself repeating words my parents used to say: “Only boring people get bored”. If you’ve found yourself using this old chesnut, have no fear it simply means you too are displaying a similar lazy kind of behaviour but just in the context of parenting. No shame in it, we’re all guilty of this, particularly if you’re trying to work around the kids at home. Parents can get bored too. In fact I think I’ve said to my kids several times this summer: “I spent most of my childhood being bored. Welcome to my world”. Yes, I’m both lacking in any kind of creative parenting style and a hypocrite.

Solution:
Find other bored parents with their bored children and hangout together. You can have a good moan over a cuppa and they will probably wind each other up and then play nicely 20 minutes before you’re due to leave. Classic.

3) What are we doing today?

“Nothing. We’re just doing jobs at home.” If your children are anything like mine you can only get away with this a few times in the course of six weeks. Their generation is living the middle class dream of café society, cultural days out mixing with different people and going on two or sometimes three holidays. They don’t know they’re born, which is why we go camping (just to keep it real). Joking aside though, their expectations are so high these days. I blame the parents (i.e. myself). We’re all having kids later in life and we miss the lattes, lunches, boozy dinners and mini-breaks. As a result we’re all desperately trying to recreate it with our kids. But are we creating little monsters who want it all?

Solution:
Actively seek out opportunites to detatch from the luxuries of modern life and let them go feral. We need to go feral too: perhaps not in the hygeiene department, but we all need to find our inner ROAR and go wild. Take a walk in the country, enforce a digital detox, go for a swim outdoors, breathe fresh air.

Time for a positive change

Something occurred to me this week after I’d read some lovely emails from readers of Social Butterflies, there is a never-ending discussion online (and offline) about ‘honest parenting’, we can’t get enough of books like Hurrah For Gin and The Unmumsy Mum. But how about some ‘honest career chat’? I’m not talking about flexible working – there are huge strides being made in that area, thanks to amazing ambassadors like Mother Pukka and Digital Mums. I’m talking about the identity crisis so many women feel when they put their careers on hold to have a family. So why does this issue still feel like a taboo subject?

For many women of my generation (born in the 70s/80s) we had established professional identities long before children came along (not forgetting spontaneous mini-breaks, oh how I miss you mini-breaks). But no-one, it seems, feels comfortable talking about the lows of career compromise in motherhood. The most obvious reason is because people don’t want to prejudice future job opportunities or damage their image. But I’m not talking about committing an act of career self-harm. It’s just about acknowledging those lows so you can refocus that energy on creating new highs. If you’ve taken time out, or your foot off the career accelerator, then your confidence needs building up. You’re not going to get that by feeling unable to talk about it. Knowing others feel the same way is both reassuring and empowering. When you feel part of a movement don’t you feel more energised to make a change?

So I would like to open up the conversation. But this isn’t a drowning your sorrows exercise. This is very much about focusing on the positives. It’s about recognising your worth, valuing your experience, honing your skills, retraining in some cases, pursuing a passion and giving each other a leg-up! (I’ve been there, so I should know). I took a three-year career break a few years ago (but I did have two children) so I never feel awkward about explaining that time off to prospective employers. Maybe if I hadn’t done that I might be earning more money, or have a more impressive job, but I don’t like to look back. I am where I am because of the choices I made – no regrets. I think one of the best things you can do if you are on a career plateau is to skill yourself up. Even now, with over 16 years’ experience behind me I still think it’s important to attend courses, workshops and industry events. You should never be complacent about your knowledge in the workplace. I work in digital marketing where innovations and trends move so fast I have to keep pace.

If you’re feeling out of touch with your career identity and looking to try something new, or maybe just want to enhance your existing skills, then take heart from all the amazing women we feature on Social Butterflies. So many of them have taken career breaks, or left behind stellar jobs to try something new that suits family life. You can achieve that too – all it requires is a positive attitude, determination, a healthy dose of confidence and a good support network. You too could feel like the lady in the photo (looks like a Bodyform advert, I know).

TOP TIPS

KEEP ON LEARNING
The best advice I can give anyone who is feeling out of touch with the work place is to continuing learning: take a course, attend a workshop, go to a talk. Find something that interests you and meet like-minded people. Taking courses purely for professional reasons is great too (I’m currently learning all about analytics…) but be clear about what you want to get out of it, particularly if you’re paying a lot of money for something.

RETHINK YOUR STORY
Even if you’re not currently looking for work, try writing your CV out as you would a diary-style story. It’s a great exercise to help order your career thoughts and reexamine what you have to offer in an informal way. Once you’ve got a clearer sense of what that story is, you can translate into a CV format (have a look at Pinterest for CV style inspiration). Set yourself up with a LinkedIn profile and connect with old colleagues – you never know where Barry from accounts is now working and how he could help (by the way, Barry is a fictional character, purely for illustrative purposes).

EXPERIENCE NOT AGE
With age comes wisdom. We should be proud of the experience we have gained, and not compare ourselves to twenty-somethings. Each generation has their own unique skill set  – ours is multitasking experience (in bucket loads!). Taking time out of work has reinvigorated your desire to work, not diminished it. I’m in my late-thirties and we’re not having any more children, so I represent a whole load of women who are not going to go on maternity leave and we’re less likely to flit from job to job. This is an advantage for a future employer. It’s all about changing negative perceptions and seeing the positives.

POSITIVITY PEOPLE
It’s therefore crucial to surround yourself with positive people. There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism, but the doomsayers can quite frankly f**ck off! If you’re trying to lift yourself up you need people with a glass half full attitude. I always think if you project positivity you will attract it (you can have that as a motivational fridge magnet, you’re welcome).

I’m really hoping by getting this topic out in the open it will help other women out there, who felt like I once did. I’d love to hear from anyone who has felt like this and has made positive changes in their career. Please email hellosocialbutterflies@gmail.com. I’d love to feature your story and inspire other women to do the same.