Who are you really?

I had to write a short bio for an evaluation conference that I’m presenting at in September. I’m actually only speaking for five minutes, but it was on my bucket list to speak at a conference one day, so at least I’ll be able to tick that one off.

I did some research about how to write a bio and the recommendation was to make it relevant to the audience and make it short. This seemed like good advice. I’m a big fan of simplicity, so I generally like things to be short and to the point.

The audience will be other evaluators and my short presentation is about building evaluation capacity when you aren’t an expert, so I decided to just write a couple of sentences about my role and the fact that I like to work collaboratively with people.

I was pretty happy with my efforts until I read some of the other presenters’ bios. By comparison, mine was way too short and simple, so I panicked.

They were mostly written in the third person and there were a whole lot of qualifications being cited all over the joint. The other presenters sound very, very impressive!

You may find it amusing that I panicked given that the title of my talk is “Getting over the imposter syndrome”.

It reminded me of a meeting I went to when I was teaching at the local TAFE. It was the start of semester so we did a ‘go-around’ so that everyone could introduce themselves. I sat there getting more and more anxious (I hate go-arounds) whilst my colleagues cited their extensive academic qualifications and their very important titles. When it came to my turn I said “my name’s Margaret Moon and I’m a person”. I wasn’t trying to be especially funny or rude. It just seemed that this was the best way I could think of to describe myself. There seemed to be a lack of humanity and perhaps humility, in the room.

Back to my bio. In the end I did add a few details. I didn’t want to sound too pompous but I thought that people might want to know a little bit about my background and what kinds of things I find interesting. That list could be quite long if I got carried away, so I just talked about how much I enjoy solving problems and working alongside people. I didn’t talk about how much I love reading and drinking nice wine! That might be a discussion for another time.

I’m hoping that if I sound friendly enough some of the other attendees might come up and say hello. That would be nice.

One thing leads to another

Many years ago I started volunteering at a local counselling service. My children were quite small and I remember some people in my family being puzzled about why I would give up my time to volunteer at a not-for-profit welfare agency.

To be honest, I mainly wanted to get out of the house, but I was also interested in learning new skills. They offered an excellent training course with some top notch professionals and it was an offer too good to refuse. On top of that I could choose how many hours I worked and days that suited me. I could also take my toddler with me and she loved playing with the toys and being the centre of attention. All the staff loved her and I thrived in that environment.

One day I saw an ad for a diploma course at the local technical college. I briefly considered enrolling in the course until I realised that since I was already three quarters of the way through a degree in sociology, I was probably qualified enough to teach on the course. I’m still not sure if I was delusional, but I went home and sent off a letter (yes a letter, it was the olden days remember) telling the head teacher that I was available to teach a class at any time! How bold of me!

I heard nothing for six months. Then the head of studies rang and asked me if I could teach a class in social theory starting on the next Tuesday.

Could I? Not sure really, but I said I could. I was probably wildly over-confident and my first lessons were less than fantastic.

That was the start of my teaching career which lasted for ten years. I enjoyed it immensely and when it stopped being fun I left and started a new job. I missed my colleagues who were awesome but it was time for me to explore new territory. More things to learn, more opportunities to expand my horizons.

I often wonder what path my life would have taken if I hadn’t signed up for that volunteer role. I’m pretty certain that I would have missed out on quite a few wonderful opportunities and many great friendships.

So you’re wondering if you should volunteer, just do it. It may lead to something else, or just be a way to give back to the community or meet new people. All of these are good reasons. You won’t regret it.

Euphemisms

I was reading an article on what to wear on long plane trips and the writer suggested that women should avoid wearing gym pants or tights as they felt that displaying your “fine china” could potentially offend other travellers.

I had never heard lady bits referred to as fine china before and this made me laugh quite a lot, but I do agree that sometimes you can see rather more than you would like to see when you’re standing in a queue at the supermarket.

It also got me wondering about why there are so many euphemisms for female body parts, and also whether fine china is merely rhyming slang for vagina or whether it means that some bits of your body should be valued as one would value fine china.

I found this article by Guardian journalist Annalisa Barbieri where she lists the many names that people have invented to talk to their daughters about their bodies. My favourite euphemism is also sparkly bits.

But back to the gym pants in public question. We’ve just been out for lunch and the beautiful young waitress was indeed wearing gym clothes. It surprised me a little but I have to say that she looked fabulous (she was tiny). I’ve also noticed that when I started going to my Saturday morning exercise classes several years ago I used to wear a skirt over my leggings but now I don’t bother. I just wander down the street in my gym gear along with all the other middle-aged women. To be honest I’m probably older than middle-aged, I’m heading into old lady territory, but I still don’t care. Perhaps its because I’m getting older that I don’t care as much or maybe because it’s so normal now that one doesn’t even think twice. Or maybe its because older women feel invisible most of the time, so they think no-one will notice.

Either way, I don’t think I’d be up for wearing my gym gear on a plane. I’d feel a bit exposed and uncomfortable and I don’t think it would be a kind thing to do to my fellow travellers. I’ll be monitoring what other people are wearing though, and looking out for any displays of fine china!

Do you have any favourite or funny euphemisms to share? Feel free to chime in with your comments.

Better Evaluation

I’ve just had an article published on the Better Evaluation website. You can read it here. I wanted to share some ideas about not being an expert while also encouraging people to think about evaluation as something useful and ‘doable’ rather than something that’s too complicated or too hard.

I’m also going to be doing a short presentation on the same topic at the Australian Evaluation Society conference in September. I’m excited but also a little nervous about that. Fortunately, it’s just a five minute “ignite” presentation. Just 20 slides and then on to the next person.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Taking time to think

Easter is a wonderful time to take a break from everything and think about life, regardless of your religious persuasion. I’m taking the opportunity to gaze out the window, admire the garden and take a deep breath. I hope that you get some time to relax and take your foot off the accelerator as well.

Work has been hectic since I went back after Christmas and this blog has been sadly neglected as result. Today I’ve been catching up on my emails and came across this quote from the School of Life about Career Effectiveness.

Fortune favours the quiet thinkers who may, for a long time, have very little to show for their work. Effective people think a lot.

The Emotionally Intelligent Office

I think this is a lovely idea, but not necessarily true. At my workplace I often see quite the opposite. Fortune favours those who can produce results quickly. And although we are often told that staring out the window has value, in reality, it’s not something that you can really get away with at work on a daily basis. We need to be seen to be producing, rather than thinking about what needs to be produced.

And yet having time to think really does have value. It can help us solve problems and ensure that we are focussing our efforts on activities that are useful and productive, rather than just doing “busy work”.

I’m struggling with this a bit because we’ve just got a new system at work that we are using to track the time we spend on various tasks. It’s called a work flow tool (WFT) but I keep accidentally calling it WTF. Every time I do that it makes me laugh.

We are supposed to account for our time (don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good thing) but I sometimes spend quite a lot of time thinking things through and I’m never sure if it’s acceptable to record this as “thinking time” or just hide it under the category of research. Thinking is a kind of research I suppose, because it’s often about discovering what’s in your brain and getting your ideas in some kind of order.

I agree with this final quote from The School of Life article.

Real work often doesn’t look like work. The point of staring out of a window is, paradoxically, not to find out what is going on outside. It is rather, an exercise in discovering the contents of our own minds.

Happy Easter everyone. I hope you get time to read, relax and look after yourself.

Good writing

I’ve been a member of the same book group for more than twenty years. We’re a small group of women who enjoy reading and we have quite different tastes which is a good thing.

I often tell people that although we like very different kinds of books, we all appreciate good writing. But recently someone asked me what I mean when I say that something is ‘well written’.  Isn’t this purely subjective? A matter of opinion?

Well, yes and no.

A book can be well written, but boring. It can be well written, but too slow or the characters can be really unlikeable. (See my previous post for my thoughts on unlikeable characters).

Here’s a few things that I think contribute to good writing.

Well crafted sentences are always appreciated. I like it when I don’t have to read a sentence more than once to figure out what it means. If I do read a sentence twice, it’s usually because I’ve enjoyed it so much that I want to read it again.

I like writing that is honest but graceful. I like lyrical writing, but I dislike long descriptive passages and tend to skip over them if they are too long. I like the story to move along at a fairly brisk pace.

I like the characters to be complex and multi-dimensional (just like in real life). It’s great when characters have a range of emotions, or mixed feelings. I like to understand their motivations, their fears, their secret desires.

A couple of years ago my book group read an excellent book by Stephanie Bishop, a West Australian author called “The Other Side of the World”.  Set in England, Australia and India in the early 1960s, it was described by the New York times Book Review as an exquisite meditation on motherhood, marriage, and the meaning of home. For me, this is the kind of book that encapsulates what I like best in books. Strong themes, strong characters and lots of thought provoking questions that we couldn’t really answer in our book group, but we enjoyed discussing.

And yes, we thought it was well-written, whatever that means.