In the white light of a Covid lockdown, perhaps we realise this. The need to touch another person in some small way. physically, emotionally and mentally never goes away. And our need to connect as social animals is what makes us human. To paraphrase Donne, “No man (or woman, for that matter) is an island.”
Connections enable you
Walk with me for a short while. Perhaps you still live in the place you have lived in for many years- a university town that you never left, a city that you love, and have stayed in, building a life and growing your network of friends and colleagues. Staying in one school and rising through the ranks. Enjoying the comfortable feeling of knowing where you are and who you are.
Or perhaps you are more like me. Feeling the need to stretch your legs and seize opportunities when they arise, feeling the frustration of not being recognised for your hard work. Feeling the desire to go somewhere new and to start again. I have done this on a number of occasions. Each time it gets harder. But I have found that my latest move has been eased through the connections I have made through professional networks.
My home is North Devon. At least, that is what I still think of as home. Despite being the daughter of immigrants, despite having been born in Hertfordshire and growing up in London, and despite my family’s strong connection to their homeland and our frequent visits. North Devon is where I built my own life- where I got married, where I had my children, and where our home remains. However, I have taken opportunities to try something else, to broaden my experience and, …well… Carpe Diem, as Robin Williams said. Besides, you can only regret what you haven’t done, the opportunities missed.
The beautiful island of Guernsey was the first chance. We had a wonderful three years, making easy connections because we met the right people- lifelong friends- and because our children were the right age. It is easy to make friends when you are a certain age, open to experiences, and with school gate opportunities to connect. But all great things come to an end, and I soon realised that I had to step back- in my career and to North Devon, to nurse my wounds and build myself up again, starting with supply teaching, then part time, and ending with a middle leader role at a brilliant independent school.
You see, living in Guernsey had been amazing, but I had been too hard on myself. The pressure of a 5-year contract- a ticking time bomb that meant time was up soon if I didn’t find a permanent job quickly- added to the additional stress of a husband working part-time as a gardener. This meant that as the breadwinner, the worry about cashflow fell on me. Furthermore, I was frustrated at my lack of progression, knowing I would be able to lead Vs the lack of opportunities to advance. My own worst enemy was me. Combine this with the perfect storm of my children reaching an age where they start to go to bed later (something working mums will be familiar with) and increasing workload and I failed. My brain and body gave up trying to be the person I wanted to be and refused to play ball. I crashed.
Good fortune and connections mean that I had the support network to build myself up again, but it took time and professional help. And I longed for my home in Devon and the security of permanent work, so we returned to the UK and built our lives up again, through our old networks. We found work again (after a September spent surfing) and built our careers again, from scratch. Despite being more aware of my own limitations than ever, I grew. My supply work came from a school that knew me well. I was recruited to another school through another contact, who could vouch for my expertise. See, connections matter.
And connections were what led us back to the Channel Islands. Whilst my husband was working part-time in Guernsey, he had set up a local weather forecast site called Guernsey Weather Fox (@gsyweatherfox). Through this and the network he grew, he got to know the people at Jersey Met, who when opportunities arose for work, approached him to consider this move. With a job offer under both of our belts within weeks, we seized the opportunity again.
However, despite what we thought when we signed contracts to move to Jersey with me stepping back to a teacher role again, we found it was a very different island. And we were older- all of us. Those opportunities to connect are not present when your children go to secondary school and when you don’t want to spend your mornings hungover. It is much harder to make friends and meet people in a closed community.
So, how could I connect and find people who would enable me to live a full life- beyond the connection of my immediate family and school?
Firstly, I realised I needed to take control of my professional life for myself. So, I reached out to networks on Twitter that enabled me to establish myself on this island in the English Channel. I connected with the inspirational @WomenEd, who gave me the opportunity to start a local network in Jersey (@WomenEdJersey), enabling me to reach out to other professional women who shared the same interests as me.
I began networking through other professional women’s networks on the island- a Lean in circle and IWILL, the States of Jersey network for professional women aspiring to leadership positions, and through these organisations I met inspirational men and women who have acted as mentors and gifted me opportunities. I developed my voice on Twitter, beginning to comment rather than just re-tweet. Conscious of my actions and aware that through being active, reaching out to others, and growing my circle of professional contacts, I would grow as a leader and a person.
Connections lift you up
The connections this has brought have helped me to flourish in Jersey and beyond. I have met wonderful people from whom I have learned so much- people building networks, doing great work on diversity, and empowering others to grow. There are too many to name but most significantly, Lucy Flower (@MrsLFlower) and Vivienne Porritt (@ViviennePorritt), who saw my potential and gave me opportunities to allow that potential to shine. And through these connections, I have become stronger, more self-assured, more confident that I have the ability to be the person I want to be, rather than listening to the imposter in my head.
Coaching opportunities have come about through these connections too. I was fortunate to be coached by Claire Price(@ClairePrice1), who was a voice of reason and motivation when I did not feel capable. And since arriving in Jersey, I have connected with the Diversity Network’s Kate Wright (@TDNJersey) who as my coach has enabled me to seek clarity of direction and be stronger and more confident and the utterly brilliant Rory Steel(@JerseyITGuy), who has been a constant source of digital support and guidance.
Without these incredible people, who perhaps are not aware of the impact that they have had on me, and all of whom I connected with via Twitter, I would not be the (slightly) confident self-assured leader I am today. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now, as I wouldn’t have believed that I had anything important to say and I wouldn’t have connected with Ben either.
So, if you are starting on a new adventure, or you are contemplating a setback in your career. If you feel invisible or lacking in confidence or direction, then reach out, connect, and seek others who will lift you. Because if you are prepared to throw yourself into the abyss and take that risk, to enter the social media or in-person fray, these fragile gossamer threads of connection can morph into something real and tangible.