My Learning Year

Lots of people have predicted that pub quizzes of the future are going to be very easy. For every ‘In what year...?’ question, just say 2016, and the chances are, your answer will be correct.

I think most of the people I know are pretty much agreed that 2016 has been an awful year, and it may well be the precursor to several miserable years to follow - for world politics, stability and economies. I have to confess that a lot of the time, I just don’t know what to think in this era of information overload, post truth and fake news. Am I wrong to put some things into the ‘too difficult’ box? Does that make me a bad person? I could go on at length about this, and just succeed in tying myself up in knots.

So, what can I do? What can we do? Lots of little things, acts of kindness and generosity, taking care to do the things you do have control over carefully and thoughtfully, sharing… I thought it might be good to reflect on what I have learned this year, positively, and to share this using #mylearningyear.
Work-wise, my ‘new’ learning covers how charities work, the pleasure of co-working with new people, and unconferencing. Personally, the main thing has been adjustment as both children have left home and taking part in a big charity event.

Most of the work I did for my business was for charities, and I was already a Board member of a local charity. I think I already knew that anything to do with people in work would be similar, no matter what the sector, but human behaviours would just manifest themselves differently through their use of language/terminology or to different timescales etc. I have definitely found this. Most of my steep learning curve has been about structure, governance, and subtle relationships. I became an (almost full time) employee of one charity, which is mostly funded by donations, legacies, fundraising and its retail business. My role includes volunteer management – they are a vital part of the workforce – and their management is subtly different to that of paid employees, yet the passion, dedication and emotion they feel for what they do is no different.

This year, I also became Chair of the Board for the local charity mentioned above, which is mainly funded by contracts from local government, the NHS and joint commissioning bodies. In this role, my relationship with the CEO is critical and together we are reviewing how the Board operates. Working for one charity and volunteering for another gives me invaluable applied learning and frequent (compare and contrast) reflection. Maybe I’m a bit weird, but I find this fascinating and I would love it if anyone reading this was inspired to get involved with volunteering of any description – but especially Charity Boards, where diversity of membership is crucial.

In the work I did for my business, I was fortunate in that when I was approached about a piece of work where I knew the sector and felt I had generic skills required, but not specific knowledge of the model (IIP) I was able to contact a Twitter colleague, who I knew to be an expert, and we did this work together. I knew the sector, she knew IIP inside out, and we both had a practical and empathic approach to people issues, despite very different career backgrounds. This is just one small example of the strong links, professional partnerships and friendships that are made all the time on Social Media. An ongoing, diverse, challenging, occasionally unsettling, and wonderful seam of learning and connections.

I also went to my first unconference, which was fab, and I have blogged about it. I was familiar with most of the techniques used that day – open space and goldfish bowl – but had not previously been involved with a whole day of these relatively unstructured techniques. I put a lot of effort into co-organising a more local unconference, but it didn’t go ahead due to lack of numbers. Learning reminder? If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. I’ll have another attempt in 2017.

Crossing over into my personal life, a really significant highlight was doing a 3-day charity tandem ride, which I also blogged about. Although it nearly killed me, the learning was immense. The main thing I want to note here is the power and passion felt and lived when fundraising for something you really care about. It has seriously deepened my appreciation of how we, as charities, spend every penny.

In June, my daughter left home properly, which although she still lives locally, felt very different to when she went to University. In September, my son went to University a 2 ½ to 3-hour drive away. We were left with an ‘empty nest’ and I confess that I felt very sad. I felt bad about that because I was also really pleased for him and felt that he was going to do a fantastic course in a beautiful place on a great campus that sores very high for the student experience. As a ‘protective’ parent, that was many boxes ticked! I was also very pleased that my daughter was in a happy relationship and working hard in a job with great prospects, since graduating. A couple more boxes ticked there. The house seemed so empty though (if much tidier). I was helped a lot by an article (found on Twitter) eschewing the term ‘empty nest’ and focusing on the positives of giving your children the skills they need to become independent and seeing them flourish. After 22 years of always having one or both children at home, this adjustment has been quite hard and my learning here is to enter the next phase of life positively and enquiringly.

So, thank you so much for reading to the end enabling me to share some of my positive learning in 2016. Most of which is work in progress. I would love to hear learning reflections from others using #mylearningyear.


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