One big change I’m making for 2021 (and the rest of my life)

The one, the only.

We can all agree 2020 has been a shocker of a year and quite frankly I’m tired of feeling like a passenger in my own life. Granted there’s not much I can do to cure Covid-19, and Cancer still exists, but there is one thing we all can do to make this place a little more bearable for the future (kudos to Joe Biden for being the only good thing to happen to 2020 so far).

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll know I’m a bonafide nature lover and would spend all my time outside living on a farm in my dungarees with hundreds of horses if I could. Lately, though, I realised appreciating nature is pretty pointless if I’m not going to do anything to sustain it. Pretty Instagram posts aren’t going to cut it anymore. It’s time for a change. No nature = no planet = no us.

David Attenborough’s ‘Our Life On Our Planet’ was the wake-up call I needed. I finally understood change really does start on a personal level. It’s no use blaming huge corporations if my consumerism still requires their services. Thankfully, making these changes has been the easiest and the most rewarding thing EVER. So, what have I done, and what can you do?

– I’ve bought reusable makeup pads, shampoo bars, wax wraps to replace cling film and LOADS more from here (15% off with code SHETTY2020 – if you know, you know).

– We purchased a compost bin from my local council which means the stuff we’re throwing into landfill has reduced massively.

– I keep a plastic bag or two in my handbag for shopping.

– We buy meat from the local butcher, fruit and veg from a market stall, and only purchase what I can’t get elsewhere from the supermarket.

– I’m buying planet-friendly Christmas presents for friends and family.

– I’ve started litter picking – I take a bag and some gloves out with me and come home feeling like a champion.

What have I gained? Our food tastes AMAZING; we’re not emptying our bins as much; our garden will look beautiful next year thanks to the additional compost; and our bank account is fuller too.

Make your 2021 so much brighter by choosing even one thing that will help the planet (and your conscience) feel a whole lot better.

Back to university

An accurate depiction of lecture halls in 2020

When I started my Open University degree in 2015, nobody could have predicted that 5 years later, online study would be pretty much the only option across the whole of the UK. Open University must be leading the way for many other universities in how to move all lectures and activities online… Perhaps now OU will start getting some of the recognition it deserves.

The concept of online study always receives mixed reviews: some don’t class it as a ‘real’ degree, others think it’s easy. But when it comes to an employer interviewing one candidate with 6 years’ work experience and an OU degree in contrast to another candidate who spent three years sleeping their way through lectures, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who they’ll choose.

I chose to study Psychology and, by taking seven years to finish my BSc, continue to meander my way through all kinds of different sub-disciplines – much like a 7 course taster menu – to decide which area I could see myself pursuing a career in. I’ve also experienced three very different job roles since 2015, identifying what I do and don’t want to do in the future 9-5. By comparing areas of study and work that I love (and most definitely hate), I’ve got a strong idea of my strengths and weaknesses and where these are best utilised professionally.

Joining the OU just after leaving sixth form gave me the headspace to focus on developing a career but without the all-encompassing ‘university experience’. There was no way Freshers Week and I would have ever worked out. Instead, I worked in a beautiful local cafe in Devon before getting my first ‘proper job’ at a Sixth Form, so really, there was no escaping education at all back then. This role taught me so much about the education system: how teachers really are just people (although it was still weird having the people that were my teachers becoming my colleagues), the challenges students go through each day and how beneficial strong networks within an educational setting can help them, and also that educational psychology – where I’d envisioned my career taking me – most definitely wasn’t for me.

Moving through my degree, I’ve been exposed to subjects that have sparked a huge passion within me. This is the beauty of OU: you learn at a time of your life that works for you, and you have the desire – and maturity – to continue to do so. Right now, starting my fifth out of sixth year, I’m excited to continue to learn and cultivate the niche part of Psychology that I’ll stay excited about.

I’ve met an incredibly broad range of people through studying with the OU – an experience somewhat limited at brick universities because you’re surrounded by people who haven’t really created their identities yet. Working with such different types of people is eye-opening and useful for understanding different perspectives: some students are in their 70s and bring a wholly unique perspective of the world than I could ever have thought of. Others are parents whose children have left home, who are looking to pursue a career at a time of their lives which is right for them. Some are disabled and not able to attend ‘brick’ universities. This diversity is incredible and a refreshing part of the university experience.

Nevertheless, OU study still has its challenges. There is little option to work with other students and the idea of brainstorming is almost non-existent because of minimised face-to-face interaction. Facebook groups and forums do help, but there are fewer ‘eureka’ moments that only truly come from engaging in literal discussion on a topic. It’s easy to forget that tutors and other students are people behind a screen, because – as we all know – words online can be taken in the wrong way. This becomes especially true when an assignment comes back with ‘constructive criticism’ that only reads to be harsh without the verbal communication needed to explain its meaning fully.

In the current climate where nearly all university students are interacting with their studies online, I hope there is a change of perspective of the hundreds of thousands of students – and tutors – who’ve always learned or taught in this way. I hope students consider how the convenience of OU study could improve their opinion of academia and perhaps open doors earlier than they’d be opened should brick university remain the only option. Mostly, though, I hope OU students get the respect they deserve from their brick university counterparts. Now, we’re all in this together.

Getting back in the (literal) saddle

Speak to me for five minutes and you can guarantee I’ll incorporate horses into the conversation somewhere. My nickname is Shetty, my office computer is adorned with a pink fluffy unicorn pen, my house is covered in horse pictures and I would most definitely wear my riding stuff everyday if my boss would bear it. It is a confident assumption to say that, yes, I’m one of those ‘horse-women’.

The difference between loving to write and loving to horse-ride is that the former can be done pretty much anywhere for the total price of 0, whereas the latter is on the total opposite of that scale. Of course, I’ve always found ways to feed my addiction (horse books, horse games, horse TV channels etc, etc) but now we’ve settled in an area surrounded by likeminded equestrian nuts, I’ve finally started riding regularly again after a long 6 year break, save for the occasional lesson or hack. Luckily near enough 20 years of equestrian experience wasn’t totally wasted and getting back in the saddle was like I’d never been away. There’s an unparalleled bliss of lazy strolls through the forest, only the clip-clopping of hooves and birdsong for company. In contrast, the adrenaline rush of galloping through open fields, streaming eyes and a pounding heart, is like no other feeling I’ve experienced. It was incredible to get back to this.

I feel that starting to ride regularly again is reflective of finally feeling settled in West Sussex. The last three years since moving here have been entirely focused on building a career and trying to put down roots, whereas now that we’ve bought the house and my career is progressing, it feels like the right time to re-start the parts of my life which have always connected me to home.

The goal is to get back to having my own horses again in the future and I’m certain that my children will experience horses in the same way my sister and I did: mucking out in our pyjamas and seeing two hairy ears and a big nose appearing in the kitchen window. Now, half-way through my twenties, I know that the career I build for myself now needs to facilitate the (slightly terrifying) costs of equine life later down the line. So, for now, I’m so excited to be spending every other Saturday back at the stables – and the rest of the time wishing I was there!

Buying our first house in lockdown

Being the superstitious worrier that I am, I’ve delayed writing this post to avoid jinxing the very motive behind it. Clearly the House-Buying Gods smiled down on me and appreciated my thought because thankfully this blog can go ahead. We own our own house!

Thinking back to pre-lockdown feels like years ago. Nevertheless, it’s only been five short months since we started looking at buying our first property. We fell in love with only the second we viewed and, one cold February night after our third viewing, excitedly called the estate agent from a local bar (obviously, liquid courage was necessary) and made an offer. My partner and I both work in sales so aimed to play the estate agent at their own game and after some back-and-forth it wasn’t long before we had our offer – which was nicely below asking price – accepted and mortgage confirmed. It only became real when this monstrously large figure was added to our direct debit accounts after moving in.

We had a week of blissful stress-free skiing in France and were, no surprise, sat in a local bar when we heard about the lockdown that had just hit Europe. We frantically called our mortgage advisor who started hinting at some potential outcomes and outlined a couple of additional considerations: delays further up the chain, halts in the housing market in the future, dramatic reduction in house-prices… Maybe the House-Buying Gods weren’t going to be so kind after all. We had 0 experience of purchasing anything more expensive than a car so the thought of gambling with hundreds of thousands of pounds (as well as the next ten years of our lives) was terrifying.

Being the worrier I am, I had visions of being stuck in a house for the next 30 years with no ability to sell because the house wasn’t worth what we paid for it. I had premonitions of wanting to start a family but with no hope of moving somewhere closer to our own parents in Devon. We couldn’t even go to see the house again because of lockdown restrictions and no number of drive-bys eased our concern. My partner is without question the less-stressed one in the relationship so thankfully his cool head and process-driven methodology kept us on the straight-and-narrow. We both spent time researching the housing market (which, in hindsight I like to think we would have done had lockdown not happened) and took our parents’ advice to sit tight.

Now, living hundreds of miles away from our friends and family and with both of us working from home through lockdown (and sans printer) made signing contracts and having witnesses for said contracts extremely difficult. What would usually take us an hour or two took us weeks, adding to the anxiety that we wouldn’t get our paperwork completed by our exchange date – which unbeknownst to us – was taking place six weeks earlier than planned. Cue extreme wine-drinking and feeling like we were in a scene from Money Heist gathering thousands of pounds for our deposit ready to send to our solicitor.

And then, there was nothing. We received polite emails to confirm our life savings had been safely stashed and were told to wait for a call on the day of completion weeks later to pick up our keys. We organised delivery vans and carpet cleaners and packed up about 2 weeks earlier than necessary, then before we knew it the 15th July was here and we were driving to pick up the keys (clearly we were driving far too hastily as we got caught speeding on the motorway. Great start.)

But, finally, we did it! We spent 2 solid days scrubbing the place top to bottom and running up and down *our own* stairs like children. Our first few nights felt like we were staying in a hotel and having cool glasses of G&T in the garden in the evenings felt like living in a dream. The weeks between our move-in date and today have been one huge blur. We’ve had both sets of our parents travel up from Devon and have spent more time in the sun in the last few weeks than we did in the entirety of last year (a garden with sun is 100% my favourite part of the house).

I’ve only started to understand just how stressed living in a built up area with no garden or sunlight was making me. I’m so much more relaxed being in our own place where I can see a sunrise and sunset and am in walking distance of a woods (and yes I’ve already scoped out at least 10 riding stables in the local area). Having our own base really is priceless and I’m so happy we stuck with our guns – particularly for a home that really is everything we wanted it to be.

I’m sat in the garden with a G&T on one of the hottest days of the year, the sun beaming down, feeling truly content. Next step… a puppy!

Why I Work in Talent Acquisition

If only my desk was this tidy.

When people think of a Talent Acquisition role, they often think ‘recruitment’. Yes I earn commission for hires, work to monthly ‘starter targets’ and am focused on hiring into a company. I spend the majority of my time on the phone to candidates and embrace the target-driven and incentive-focused nature of the wider company, but I combine this with a strong focus on talent strategy and growing the global brand of my business.

Working in Talent Acquisition means I know my business inside out. I act as the face of the company and am the first impression of the firm to new consultants, so I need to be a reflection of the type of consultant I look to hire. I am responsible for hiring for three offices across the UK and also support our global offices in their hiring processes. I embody not just the businesses’ overall culture, goals, visions, but also the individual needs and requirements of each Sales Manager. The benefit of having such an intricate knowledge of the team means that I’ve developed strong relationships with each Manager I’ve hired for, as well as working on a one-to-one basis with the CEO and COO.

The job certainly isn’t just ‘CV-sifting’. The majority of my hires came from sources such as LinkedIn and referrals which means it isn’t my responsibility to just find someone who needs a job; I need to discover talent and attributes that align with the businesses’ needs and introduce the candidate to long-term career opportunities.

The benefit of working in Talent Acquisition over pretty much any other type of recruitment is that every day, I personally see and contribute to my hires progressing and growing into award-winning members of the team. Yes, working in sales means there’s nowhere to hide, but it also means that when you do well, the entirety of the office is supporting and celebrating your success along with you, but NOBODY cheers louder than the Talent Acquisition Consultant who hired you when you ring the deal bell for the first time!

My biggest achievement to-date has been filling four ‘strategic’ senior-level hires. These aren’t your standard roles and were challenging to fill, but seeing these people thrive in managing teams, devising refreshing training programmes and opening up the reach of the business is a huge motivator to continue to source these types of profiles for the company. The Talent Acquisition team work hard to ensure each consultant we hire adds a positive and fresh dynamic to the team.

The biggest challenge I face is the unreliability in candidates – there’ve been processes which has gone without a hitch right up until the day before the candidate was due to start…only for them to message me the night before they’re due to start saying that they’re dropping out. In my head, I’d already spent the commission and celebrated an early finish on a Friday for hitting target, so to know I needed to start the process again was really demotivating. From this, I’ve learned that no deal is truly closed until the candidate has turned up on their first day. I’ve also learned to listen to my gut feeling – it’s very rarely wrong.

So far, I’ve hired over 50 people into the company spanning three UK offices. I’ve witnessed my Consultants break billing records, receive promotions, earn life-changing money and be part of closing huge deals. I’ve more than doubled my earnings since my previous position and have hired into every team in the company. I’ve written blog posts for external sources and have been part of bringing in brand new processes and social media ideas for the company.

Talent Acquisition, like any recruitment position at my company, is genuinely more than just a job. I’m so invested in not just hitting my targets and making great commission (an inevitable motivation) but also in creating an amazing working environment and group of colleagues around me.

Teenage Life in the Country

Yep. It really was like this.

Sitting cross-legged on my side of the bed in our old bedroom writing this article, the downstairs television and wafts of conversation reverberate through the thick farm-house walls. The blustery Devonshire gale rips through an open window, closed doors rattling through the rooms. A call comes up the stairs “Callum, Lauren, diiiiinnnnerrrr”.

Visiting home is like being taken back in time. Nothing really changes in the small seaside town we’re from but it seems a lifetime away from our ‘new normal’ in West Sussex. Coming home provides the opportunity to reflect on my teenage years spent in the country and identify the differences to those who grew up in central towns and cities.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I know that West Sussex is hardly the Bronx. But the close proximity to London means ‘city-life’ feeds into the mindset of most who live there. Life is fast-paced, energetic, always on-the-go. Whatsapp, Deliveroo and Uber are ways of life. Devon? 3G is a rarity, your only takeaway option is a 25-minute drive to the nearest fish-and-chip shop, and convenient public transport means waiting an hour for a bus (and you’ve got no chance on a Sunday).

In my teens, a typical Friday started by mucking out the horses (usually in my school uniform), before our parents ferried my sister and I to the top of the country lane where we’d catch the school bus and not go home until Monday. Our parents never worried. They knew we’d be somewhere locally with friends, confirmed by a passing conversation with the postman who’d mention he’d seen us in the park earlier in the day, or with the barman who’d joke at our failed attempts of buying cider with awful fake IDs. I didn’t think twice about spending two hours on a rickety bus to travel to see friends in a nearby town, however the anger of missing said bus and waiting an hour for the next was a constant source of frustration. Our time was filled with the dramas each teenager experience: school, parties, relationships. But, we took for granted the horses, the beach parties, the freedom – because these things were all we ever knew. Until the age of 21, my life was spent with salty hair and minimal makeup, driving around in my 1987 classic Mini Mayfair called Beethoven.

Living in South Devon was an idyllic place to grow up. The pace of life was – and still is – most definitely slower and, although we lived in an expensive tourist trap, the cost of living was a fraction of that in London. However, it soon became clear that well-paying jobs are like gold-dust and, if you want to pursue a career, relocation (or a 4 hour daily commute) is necessary.

It wasn’t until we were propelled into ‘urban life’ upon our move to West Sussex that I understood just how different my upbringing made me to my new colleagues: I’d never been to London. Wearing heels and bronzer were alien to me. I was genuinely excited about being within walking distance of a train station. This period of adjustment was huge and it’s taken me two years to find a balance of ‘country’ Lauren and ‘professional’ Lauren.

I’ve learned that no city bar beats a beach BBQ and that life is a hell-of-a-lot simpler when there are fewer people around. But, I also have come to appreciate the beautiful surroundings of my hometown far more than I ever did when I lived there, and know when the time is to leave. It’s true what they say about living in small towns. Nothing really changes and that feeling is claustrophobic. I love now living somewhere which is vibrant and ever-changing. I love working in an environment full of energetic, young people who reflect my mentality.

Living in the deepest corners of the countryside before moving to ‘civilisation’ has taught me a lot about the qualities I want to maintain, no matter where I live. I’ll always hold on to the dedication it takes to live on a farm and appreciate early mornings. I’ll never forget the brilliance of board games and evenings spent with the family around a roaring fire in the depths of winter when nothing is open because all the tourists have gone home. I am only really calm when in open green spaces or on the beach, and I know to give myself the dedicated time each week to find my ‘calm’.

Moving away from your hometown is something everyone should do at least once. But, don’t forget what you learned from living there, and use that to help shape who you want to become.

“68 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice” – Kevin Kelly

I stumbled upon this brilliant article, written by Kevin Kelly, on WordPress recently:

https://kk.org/thetechnium/68-bits-of-unsolicited-advice/?

Take five minutes this morning to read the full article – I promise you’ll find one thing that you needed to hear today.

If you don’t have five minutes, have some of my favourites:

“If you desperately need a job, you are just another problem for a boss; if you can solve many of the problems the boss has right now, you are hired. To be hired, think like your boss.”

“A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier.”

“Rule of 3 in conversation. To get to the real reason, ask a person to go deeper than what they just said. Then again, and once more. The third time’s answer is close to the truth.”

“If you are not falling down occasionally, you are just coasting.”

“Following your bliss is a recipe for paralysis if you don’t know what you are passionate about. A better motto for most youth is “master something, anything”. Through mastery of one thing, you can drift towards extensions of that mastery that bring you more joy, and eventually discover where your bliss is.”

All Credit to Kevin Kelly for these brilliant pieces of advice. Find the article here: https://kk.org/thetechnium/68-bits-of-unsolicited-advice/?

Mental Health in Lockdown

It’s in your hands

As someone who has notoriously struggled to prioritise improving my own mental health, I’ve always been great at finding welcome distractions to ensure it’s never at the top of my list. But, deprived of interruptions through lock-down, I gave time to think about the way I think.

What I found wasn’t great.

Working in a high-pressure environment and generally putting high pressure on myself in life, I learned I thrive off nervous energy (and black coffee), only feel I’m succeeding when working myself to the bone, and had stopped giving attention to hobbies I’ve always loved.

Lock-down meant I had no choice but to slow down. Spend weekends in. Have hours with nothing whatsoever to do. At first this meant panicking about not being productive and definitely drinking too much wine. Lately though, I’ve made a conscious effort to get back to old hobbies and find excitement in doing things I’ve always loved.

So many people are going through hardship and I imagine many feel the way I have: burnt out, stressed, nervous of what this pandemic means for our lives long term. Without realising, these thoughts can take over, removing the ability to find the positive.

I wanted to share some methods which helped me re-focus my mind-set and seek to find something good in each day, no matter how small.

What’s helped me see the good:

 ‘Positive emails’ inbox: My job involves a lot of highs and a lot of lows, meaning appreciation always goes a long way. Since joining BJ in 2018, I’ve started saving positive emails into a folder. When having a hard day I spend time reading these and reminding myself of times my colleagues and managers have gone out of their way to tell me I’m doing well.

– The ‘good things’ list: I was recently reminded of some really great things that had happened lately which I’d totally lost sight of in amongst colossal negatives in the world. It shocked me how easily I’d let these positives pass me by. Now, I give 5 minutes a week to think of at least 5 things which have happened in the last 7 days which were positive or that I’m proud of.

 Look around: Maybe lock-down has given you time to redecorate. Maybe you cleaned the windows for the first time since moving into your apartment (guilty). Maybe you nailed a job application, or finished a first draft of a CV. Maybe you binge-watched the entirety of Money Heist in four days (also guilty). Remind yourself of what you achieve every day and high-five yourself for it.

– Gratitude: There’s been a lot of anger lately. But there’s also been a lot of thanks. I’m so grateful for my partner making sure I eat lunch everyday and I’m thankful for my big sister who makes me laugh with daily videos of her home-schooling my nephew. Remind yourself of the people who bring positivity into your life without even trying.

– Hobbies that are just yours: I’ve found a new love of jigsaws, rejuvenated the love I get from writing, and go barely a few hours without reading some of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (yes I bought all 20 books). Find/rejuvenate a hobby that you only need yourself to do. My guilty pleasure is Wasgij puzzles and Talk Radio on a Saturday night.

These have been a small selection of things which have worked for me. In no way do I mean for this to take away from the impact of what has been a monumentally challenging few months, but I hope that it provides some support to those out there who need it.

For anybody struggling with their mental health, please reach out to one of the following resources:

–         www.anxietyuk.org.uk

–         https://thelucyraynerfoundation.com/

–         www.menshealthforum.org.uk

–         www.mentalhealth.org.uk

–         www.mind.org.uk

How Writing Changed My Life

But by all means, do it

At the ripe age of 24, I’m still embarrassingly proud of winning a ‘performing arts’ award at eight years old. The award certainly wasn’t for my artistic prowess nor my shining acting ability, but for my writing.

I always had a book in my hand as a child: eating breakfast, cleaning my teeth, sat in the crook of light which came through my propped-open bedroom door after bed-time. Put it this way, there was never a struggle for my parents to know what presents to get me. I read Joy Adamson’s ‘Born Free’ age seven, Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ not long after, and the highlight of each week was a trip to the library with my nan.

After reading Anne Frank’s Diary at a similar age, keeping my own became my first creative outlet. I was traditional in my style: ‘Dear Diary’, ‘Love Lauren’ with the now-hilarious anecdotes of an 8-year old child to read back on. My language was indicative of my obsession with Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ and reflects my idyllic childhood of horses, Devonshire caravanning holidays, and a roast dinner on a Sunday.

It wasn’t long before this love of creative writing became apparent in my school-work. I’d write story after story, using books I’d read as inspiration. This was always encouraged by my family and school teachers, providing me with the support and motivation to continue doing what I loved. Growing up I was on the school journalism team, frequently contributed to the local newspaper, and started my career working in the Sixth Form I’d studied at, supporting students in university applications and sourcing career opportunities. I started an Open University BSc (Hons) Psychology Degree in 2015 which taught me what I loved and most definitely hated (neuroscience and I will never be friends). But, with my studying came the realisation that staying in Devon was never going to offer me the career path I so craved.

My partner and I moved just south of London in 2018 to chase higher salaries and fulfilling career opportunities. This move meant subconsciously creating a new identity to fit in with these unknown surroundings. I stopped reading, stopped writing, changed how I looked and before long was living a life that definitely wasn’t mine.

The irony of getting ‘gnothi seauton’ (know thyself) tattooed on my arm in the midst of all this has not been lost, and a recent wake-up call meant working on actually knowing myself before I started really disliking who I saw in the mirror.

The last year I’ve focused on re-familiarising myself to areas of my personality I’d nearly forgotten. I’ve read more books in the last three months than I had in the prior two years. I dusted off my diary and committed to writing for fun at least once a week, and have published well-received articles on LinkedIn.

Re-igniting my passions has achieved so much more than simply putting pen to paper – it grounded me. I no longer feel like I’m chasing the life my current situation requires of me. I am living the life I want.

My partner loves an analogy and once told me “if you don’t talk about how you feel, you stack each problem on top of each other like unstable china plates. The longer you don’t talk, the more precarious your stack of plates becomes.” But, each time you talk about a problem, you remove one of the plates from the stack. This is how I feel when I write: I get my thoughts into coherent words and then deal with them.

Right now, I’m more happier with myself and my life than I have been in a long time.

Give yourself time to do the things you love, and the rest will work itself out.