365 Days in the NHS

So today is my 365th day working in the NHS. Before I started my journey I was full of grand ideas about the impact I was going to have and how I was going to change the world.

People talk about the first 100 days but I’ve spent the last couple of days reflecting on my first 365 days.

Here are some of my thoughts, observations and learning points (in no particular order).

  • It’s a culture shock. With no NHS experience I so wasn’t prepared – I came from a world where dual screens, paperless working and using my own device to access work emails was standard.
  • I wouldn’t have survived without the amazing HR Team in our little office. The support, advice, care and compassion we all show eachother is amazing to experience. #DreamTeam.
  • There are times you want to give up.
  • There are times you want to (and sometimes will) cry.
  • There are times when you will feel like you have conquered the world.
  • There are some amazing people and I am privileged to work with many of them.
  • When needed people don’t think twice about rolling their sleeves up to help in any way they can.
  • It’s frustrating as hell. The highs are really high but the lows…..they can be so so low.
  • It’s REALLY demanding. I mean I thought I was pushed and stretched before but now I know there is another level.
  • Where do I start? Is a regular thought.
  • The learning curve is massive.
  • Resilience is essential.
  • Mental toughness helps too.
  • I have learned more HR stuff not just NHS stuff.
  • You commit to the cause – it’s not just a job.
  • It’s exhausting.
  • Get used to re-prioritising…..its an important skill used frequently.
  • You are cared for and looked after and people are analysing your health…..even when you are in meetings that are not about you!

One definite take away for me is that we can’t do this alone – by that I don’t just mean me on my own but the NHS can’t do it alone. We need all the help we can get from partners in different sectors helping us to join the dots.

Despite feeling at times like I’ve been put through the ringer I am still here and I will keep going.

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I originally set up this blog thinking I would spend my time blogging about the world of HR. Maybe because I was on maternity leave at the time but my first post was related to raising children. I haven’t put fingers to keyboard since this post, primarily because I was savouring the time off with my children, and now I find myself wanting to talk about another child related topic although this one does also apply to work!

My daughter keeps referring to herself as a ‘forgetful head’ because there are a few people around her at school (adults) that use this term when they forget something. At first I laughed it off and told her everyone forgets things sometimes but she seems to be fixated on this ‘label’. So now I find myself wondering whether there are too many ‘labels’ out there that put people in boxes which can be damaging, either to their self esteem or to the picture portrayed of them.

I have a 10 year old step son and over the summer he referred to himself as ‘stupid’ which left my husband and I in shock. Like most of us, when he likes a subject and is interested he does really well and when he isn’t interested he struggles. He is a very well liked boy but is quite quiet and some would say naive but he has a heart of gold. When we talked to him about being ‘stupid’ he said that’s what his friends call him.

Now I don’t think for one minute that his friends constantly berate him or that he is the only one they have, probably quite flippantly, said is stupid but the effect on him has clearly been deep. This added to the recent discussions with my daughter about being a ‘forgetful head’ and watching Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk for what must be the 10th time really got me thinking about the ‘labels’ we use, especially with our children……

How many times have we responded to something our children have said with “don’t be stupid it’s…..” or “no silly you don’t do it like that”? With Sheryl’s speech ringing in my ears I can hear all the things I say to my children that could impact on how they see themselves.

My husband and I continue to deal with the ‘stupid’ and ‘forgetful head’ labels through different methods – letting my stepson read his school report, praising his work, recognising when he has done something well, explaining to my daughter that we all forget things, praising her for good work remembering things she has learned (and pointing out that she has remembered things) and reminiscing about things we have done.

Obviously this doesn’t just apply to children, although if their start in life involves being given a ‘label’ like stupid, forgetful, bossy or trouble they will start to believe it and then struggle to break free from it as they grow…..

As adults we have all probably been given at least one ‘label’ at some point in our lives, usually in a work setting with fellow team members, managers and senior leaders perceptions made up of a plethora of ‘labels’. Personality and team profile questionnaires add to the validity of these ‘labels’ especially when they use exactly the same terms.

These can, depending on the resilience of the individual, have a massive impact on their self confidence. Don’t get me wrong there are some people out there who go through life oblivious to their impact on others who would really benefit from understanding the ‘labels’ placed on them and doing some self-development to try to deal with them.

In reality the world isn’t a fair, nice or mindful environment for anyone and I am certainly not saying that everyone should find a nice way of saying everything – believe me, as someone who is labelled as outspoken, confrontational and says it like it is (I personally don’t see these as bad things providing they are used in the right way at the right time in the right amount) I don’t think everything should be dressed up in roses and pretty bows.

Our outlook on life, our preferences, our likes and dislikes and our personalities are what give us our definitions for different labels – and this will differ from person to person. Is someone challenging or confrontational? Bossy or confident? Efficient or impatient? Outspoken or pushy?

Labels and perceptions are a fact of life, some can be short-lived but extremely hurtful and some have a much longer life-span – these may not be ‘hurtful’ but they can definitely be damaging. I think what I am trying to say is that we really need to be mindful of labels, especially with children, and remember that the labels we give are just as much about us as them.

Are we sending out the right message to our children?

I have a 4 year old daughter and she started primary school last September. She is a bright child and loves to learn.

Within the class they have 2 superstars each week. The superstars get to take home one of the class teddies and they have a diary to complete. Whilst in school the superstars sit on two red chairs whilst the other children sit on the carpet. My little girl has asked every week “when will it be my turn mummy?”. Just before half term I got a text from school telling me that she was to be superstar, to see her little face when her name was called in assembly was amazing….but the shine started to fade for her after a couple of days at school.

After much discussion and questioning it turns out she didn’t like sitting on the red chairs….The reasons upset me. She was being left out by her friends, they were telling her she couldn’t play with them because she didn’t sit with them….. when I asked around it became clear that she wasn’t the only one to experience this which got me wondering what the rationale was of sitting two students on chairs looking down on the rest of the class who are sat on the floor? We invest so much on educating our children about equality yet, possibly without thinking wider than the reward element, someone took the decision to place two children on chairs looking down on their classmates.

In the end I told my little girl to sit on the floor if that’s where she was happiest because being superstar was enough without the chair….she seemed to take comfort in that and skipped out of school the following day proudly telling me she had told her teacher she was happier sitting on the floor with the rest of her class mates.

It’s funny how such small things can have such a big impact and this experience has made me think about some of the subliminal messages our children get from us. I want my daughter to grow up confident and happy, I want her to be thoughtful and aware of the needs of herself as well as others around her but most of all I want her to be herself and to do what she feels is right and not follow blindly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want her to be nightmare rebel! I want her to behave but I also want her to question things she isn’t sure about so that she can understand things she can’t change and influence things where she can. I suppose this post comes at an apt time with so much in the media about International Women’s Day but I believe that even if I had been writing this about my son in 4 years time when he starts school my thoughts would be the same.

I was a follower as a child, always worried about what others thought of me. I am no longer someone who follows blindly but I know that the whole worrying about what other people thing is so ingrained now that I’m not sure I can change it. It’s a very limiting trait to have and I don’t want my children to grow up with it.

I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here, my intention for this post was to muse about the things we teach our children! Reflecting as I write I firmly believe we need to look beyond the simple mechanism of rewarding our children and look deeper at the messages that our actions give out…..quite a deep thought that arose for me from something as simple as superstar, a teddy and a chair.