All aboard the Covid-19 rollercoaster

Plus a Q&A with career coach Lydia Newell on how to take control of an unpredictable career

The Freelance Parent is currently a free service-based newsletter aimed at helping its subscribers thrive professionally and personally. If you find this week’s issue helpful, please consider supporting the newsletter by donating £3 here and sharing with your friends. Don’t forget your donation can be claimed as an expense against your business too.

I was adamant that I wasn't going to begin today’s newsletter moaning about lockdown. So I'll begin with a joke that I stole from the movie The Chicago 7 instead. Here goes…

Why do the French only eat one egg for breakfast? Because one egg is un oeuf.

Jokes aside, I hope you are doing ok with the new lockdown restrictions if you’re reading this from the UK. I’ve had a funny couple of weeks which I’m blaming on a combination of pandemic-induced anxiety with London moving into Tier Two restrictions, and the astrological phenomena of Mercury being in retrograde (I blame it on everything). For the first time in a long time, I started to worry if freelancing was going to work for me anymore with the economy in such disarray. (I did exactly the same last time Boris made a big announcement).

But I quickly snapped out of it after I had solid work for next month booked in and my catastrophic imagined future was abated. Of course, these periods of worry always existed before Covid-19 but the pandemic seems to have taken the usual freelance concerns - late invoices, unanswered emails and slow periods - and supersized them with steroids.

I also started to think a lot more about my career as a whole. Since the pandemic happened, my long-term goals have gone out of the window and I started to take it month by month, unsure of how my work would be affected. But today's TFP guest, career coach Lydia Newell reminds us that setting goals and thinking about what we want from our work long-term is always helpful and important. More of that to come.

With all of this nervous energy buzzing around, I've found a lot of comfort in podcasts and really enjoyed listening to the motivational speaker and life coach, Gabrielle Bernstein, on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. In this episode, Gabrielle speaks about her difficult journey to motherhood and how controlling she became as she tried to conceive; cancelling work plans nine months ahead as she believed she’d have a newborn baby. She thought she could micro-manage her way to a positive test but Mother Nature just wasn't playing ball.

“I felt fear, shame, inadequacy and that I wasn’t good enough. I can’t make this happen,” Gabrielle says. That was until a dear friend of hers, Jordan reminded her that she was thinking about it all wrong. “He said, ‘Honey, what is wrong with you. This is not how we do things. Ask the universe for help”. He made Gabrielle see that once she surrendered and got out of the way, things would work out on their own - some how.

So she started to live her life in a more flexible way; doing what made her feel good in the moment and not trying so hard to get what she wanted. She put her trust in the universe and believed she’d get there in the end - just not in the way her Filofax had planned. Her son Oliver came into the world a couple of years later, three years after she started trying.

I also listened to comedian Adam Buxton’s eponymous podcast with one of my favourite authors, Zadie Smith. She opened up about how much she has struggled during (the first) lockdown. She described how helpless she felt at being ‘just a creative’ and how redundant she suddenly felt watching front-line workers do so much for others when she was doing nothing at all. To try and fight this feeling and give herself purpose, she started writing about her personal experience of Covid-19. The project helped to lift her mood and when she sent one of the essays to a friend, she commented on how helpful it was to hear of how someone else was managing it all. So Zadie has now published six of the deeply personal essays she wrote in the early weeks of lockdown in a book, Intimations. While trying to bring some much-needed comfort to the wider world, Zadie also addresses questions such as what it means to submit to a new reality - or to resist it, what the relationship between time and work is and, in our isolation, what do other people mean to us? She's also donating all of the proceeds to Covid-19 charities. My copy is arriving tomorrow and I can't wait to devour it.

Of course, not everything I consumed this week was as high brow or introspective. I also watched Emily in Paris on Netflix which I suggest everyone watch. It's cheesy, clichéd and just the tonic for a second lockdown.

So if you’re struggling right now - whether emotionally, physically or financially - or just feel really fed up of it all, I hope you know that you aren’t alone. And hey, maybe we should all take a bit of Jordan's advice and start relinquishing control. Perhaps the universe will point us in the direction we were supposed to be going all along.


THE INTERVIEW: LYDIA NEWELL, CAREER COACH

Lydia Newell is one very busy woman. When she isn’t looking after her energetic toddler, she’s supporting vulnerable adults into work at the homelessness charity Crisis, as well as running her own career coaching business, Works For Me Coaching. I chatted with her earlier in the week to talk all things parenthood and work. I hope you enjoy it.

Cat: First off, can you tell me about your career so far and how many children you have?

Lydia: I have a little boy who turns two in February who has endless energy, loves building blocks, books and cuddles, and is an absolute delight (other than when he refuses to sleep!). I went to university to train in Speech Therapy and, despite loving it as a profession, I just knew it wasn't for me - so after four years of lectures, placements, essays and exams, I graduated feeling a bit lost, but needing a job.

I fell back on experience from my years of volunteering in youth work and landed a role in a small charity as a schools’ worker, delivering assemblies and lessons to young people on the dangers of running away from home. From there I got a job at the British Red Cross, doing a similar job but teaching about a variety of subjects including first aid, refugees and migration. I applied for an internal role, where I managed work experience and internships across the country, providing training and supporting managers.

Fast forward to 2020 and I work for Crisis, the homelessness charity, supporting vulnerable adults into work. I love my job and, since becoming a mum, I have gone part time so I only work three days a week which feels like the best of both worlds. Around the time I started my job at Crisis, I also began my training with iPEC to become a certified professional coach. I set up my career coaching business, Works For Me Coaching in 2018 and now also help mums find work that suits them and their family.

Cat: How has lockdown and the subsequent few weeks been for you? What have been your biggest challenges with your own business?

Lydia: Although I'm so fortunate that I've worked the whole time, it's been such a juggle. The first 10 weeks of lockdown were particularly challenging. My partner was working from home full-time. I was spreading my 21 hours across all five days to get my hours in, while looking after our little boy. Our son got so resentful of me working when I was with him that he would throw my laptop across the room. He's also watched way more CBeebies than I dare to admit! Things definitely got easier after T went back to nursery. To be honest, I don't know what we'd have done if he hadn't, or if he'd been of school age.

One of the biggest challenges with my coaching business has been finding focussed time to work on it. I'm not a morning person at all, but I've been waking up at 5am to work uninterrupted, before T's morning routine begins. It is pretty satisfying to get tasks ticked off on my to do list before 7am.

Cat: Tell me about your experience of the new Covid-19 nursery rules. My son has already been sent home twice with a temperature since going back in July.

Lydia: *Knowing nod* it's rough hey?! T has had three tests since June. I get it. It’s important to take precautions, and I’m so thankful the nursery is doing all they can to keep our kids safe. But my little guy is teething and puts everything in his mouth – hello germs. Temperatures and coughs are quite a regular thing in our house.

As a working mum, the whole thing brings up a lot of mixed emotions. Of course I will do everything in my power to keep my son safe and healthy, so if that means getting tested for Covid on a semi-regular basis because he has developed a temperature, then so be it.

Cat: What impact do you think this is going to have on working mothers and parents in general?

Lydia: It is genuinely concerning to see the impact that Covid is having on parents, and particularly on mums. Being a working mum was a juggle pre-Covid, but now ‘having it all’ (career and kids) feels even harder. I’m really fortunate to have a brilliant manager who is a mum herself and understands that my priority will always be my son. But what about working mums who don’t have that luxury? What about working mums who are stuck without childcare? What about working mums who are worried about being made redundant in the aftermath of Covid?

I’m speaking to many women at the moment who feel pushed out of the workplace, unsure of their future career prospects and fearful about what to do next. I help them to regain confidence and find new direction.

Cat: For many freelancers and self-employed people, Covid-19 has done a lot of damage. What immediate advice would you give these people who are feeling lost?

Lydia: I just want to acknowledge how hard this is. As someone who runs a business, I know how much effort it takes, and how much you have to sacrifice to get your business to where it is, or in some cases was. To see something you've invested in, and built from nothing, be impacted by something out of your control must be heart-breaking.

There's some free training on my website for people who are facing a what-on-earth-should-I-do-next dilemma when it comes to their career. The mini course guides you through making a decision on what to do next. If you’re feeling stuck - trying to work out whether to keep going, whether to quit, and what to do instead - this will help. www.worksformecoaching.com/free-training

Cat: Many freelancers are finding that they need to diversify their talents to survive and keep the money coming in. How can they regain direction in this case while still upholding their personal and professional goals?

Lydia: When I work with one-to-one clients, we work out their core skills, values and interests, and find work that fits well with those things. In the current climate, with less freelance opportunities available, here’s how I suggest you approach searching for work right now:

  • Create a wish-list for your next job and make a list of deal-breakers (e.g. working in a specific industry) and nice-to-haves (e.g. to work from home). Start off by putting thoughts of what’s possible to the back of your head and think about what you really want your work to look like. It’s a great activity to help you figure out the things that are important to you.

  • Get a confidence boost. Make a list of everything you’ve achieved or take a look through your portfolio. Then make a list of your skills, knowledge and experience and get clear on what you have to offer and the skills you already have but may not have monetised before. Not sure where to start? Have a look at my Personalised Career Toolkit workbook.

  • Consider the things most important to you when it comes to your work. What motivates you? What kind of environment do you want to work in? Think carefully about your values and what it would look like to have a job that’s in line with your values.

  • Write down a list of new clients and companies you’d be interested in working for. What is it about what they do or how they work that appeals to you? Research one from the list each day, follow them on social media, find people who work there on LinkedIn.

  • Write down a list of all your connections. Who do you know that might be able to help you right now? And consider reaching out to someone who is working on a project you love the sound of. Ask questions about the things they like and don’t like and get clear on the type of qualifications, skills and experience you will need.

  • Gain more knowledge in the area of work you’re interested in. Sign up for an online course, listen to podcasts, read some blogs or books on the subject.

  • Get feedback on your CV and portfolio and ask someone you trust to be completely honest with you about what you can improve. Does it show off your best skills, knowledge and experience? Will an employer read it and want to find out more about you? For some help with improving your CV - get in touch.

  • Schedule in 15 minutes a day and see how much progress you can make by taking small action steps. You can also sign up for End Career Paralysis, my free 5 day audio series that walks you through the process of making a decision about what’s next in your career: www.worksformecoaching.com/free-training.

Thanks so much to Lydia for her great advice this week and please let me know by commenting below if there’s anything that’s particularly helped you this week. You can also contact Lydia directly at hello@worksformecoaching.com.

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As a gentle reminder, The Freelance Parent is currently a free service-based newsletter aimed at helping its subscribers thrive professionally and personally. If you find this week’s issue helpful, please consider supporting the newsletter by donating £3 here and sharing with your friends. Don’t forget your donation can be claimed as an expense against your business too.

Until next time…

Cat x

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