Think twice

It certainly feels like we’re hitting a critical mass of people concerned about plastic waste and its impact.

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This is a great thing and it’s amazing to see how quickly change can be brought about/steps can be taken in the right direction, particularly when people are shown the effect on sea life – for example – and where company customers threaten to vote with their wallets based on packaging concerns.

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Recycling has its place. As part of a group of environmental champions, and after requesting a visit, I went along to a recycling facility, to see a first-hand example of how materials are recycled.

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Three main things I took away from the experience:

  • How difficult it seems to be to provide an economically viable recycling service.
  • The complexity of recycling plastic due to the number of different types and blends out there – this needs changing!
  • The sheer scale of single-use disposables in one site, on the outskirts of one city.
  • The fact that materials are sorted.by.people.

Yes, people have the unenviable task of sorting through what we put into recycling bins. Our group were appalled at that state of what these people sorted through by hand.

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In the few minutes that we spent watching the conveyor belt, meant for dry, unsoiled paper, cans, plastic containers… we saw what must have been dozens of burst packets of previously frozen, now rotten, chicken quarters – marinade oozing out, contaminating everything in its wake.

Unfortunately, this example of complete disregard for putting waste in the right stream came as no surprise to the people working this line.

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We were given further perspective, hearing from them about the number of sharps (!) that make their way into recycling bins.

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These pose significant risk of injury to people sorting materials, and lead to high levels of distress, given their potential for transmitting HIV, hepatitis and 20 other diseases.

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Forget it.

There’s an endless supply of advice out there: 10 ways to this, 5 top things to that. I have read countless articles like this, but the advice rarely sticks. It’s unoriginal, makes little impact and is forgotten in no time.

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There is one piece of advice that has stuck in my mind though, and that I have used, with some impact so far.  I have found it simple but powerful.  It is to get out of the habit of asking: “How are you?”

When I have asked this question in the past, a few things have happened.  In the majority of cases, the person responded with something bland and meaningless: “fine” or “I’m good, thanks”, you repeat the process in reverse, move on to the weather and then end the (slightly awkward) exchange, or move on to business, small-talk over.

Nobody gains anything and this is fine.  But, in many cases, this is a waste of an opportunity: to ‘hold space’ for someone, show an interest in and learn more about their life and strengthen whatever connection you have.

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Instead of asking an old friend how she is (which, despite best intentions, often results in a shallow and meaningless interaction), I now say: “How are you getting on at work? Any news on your thesis? Is there anyone special in your life at the moment?”

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Wild posy gathered, and photographed, by a friend

If you bump into the department head in the canteen, rather ask: “How’s the feedback on the volunteering initiative you publicised last week?  Are you happy with the response to your call for mentors in the team?  What did you think about the regulator’s announcement yesterday, does it impact us?”

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Give it a try. Ask questions that are a bit more specific, about aspects of the person’s life or experience you’d really like to learn about.  Then listen!  I’ve been impressed with the results.

Continue reading “Forget it.”

Call for answers in tissue bank failure

In common with many expectant parents, my husband and I decided when I was pregnant in late 2017 that we would preserve the cord blood from my placenta after giving birth.

We believed then, as we do now, that it was the right thing to do, to help protect the health of our child. We entrusted a company, Precious Cells International, with collecting and storing my blood sample when our son was born in February 2018.

We were devastated to discover shortly after that our sample was not processed. We understand it was duly delivered to a laboratory in Scotland, but staff had run out of a kit required to process samples due to the company’s financial difficulties.

It’s not about the money we lost but about the opportunity to protect the health of our baby, which cannot be recovered. This is particularly distressing for us as my husband’s brother died of cancer at 18 years old.

We were unimpressed by the Human Tissue Authority, which did not break the news well and seems in my opinion to be toothless in these circumstances. We have had little in the way of clarity or updates and progress reports.

I would like confirmation as to exactly what happened with our sample. I would like to know how many other samples were similarly affected and over what period of time. I would like to know what happened to my cord, and my precious cells —how was this, previously a part of my body, disposed of?

To call this an invasion is an understatement. I would like to know how all parties concerned will ensure that this does not happen again.

I do not regret trying to bank my cord. Despite what happened to us, I would still urge people to make this a priority in terms of how you spend your money. But I do now wonder how things were allowed to go so wrong. A year on, we are still waiting for answers.

Susie Steyn (Robbie), London

First published in The Sunday Times, Scottish Edition, 3 March 2019

Because… Me.

A recent trip to the doctor left me with a surprising and thought provoking diagnosis: “…don’t forget to make some time for self care.”

Don’t get me wrong, I showed up showered and dressed with clean hair and brushed teeth. However, with a little probing, the cracks started to show.

“When was your last cervical check?”.  I shrugged, “five, maybe six years ago?”.

“Have you had this uneven mole checked?” I clear my throat: “I was meant to have it out, but I’m waiting to finish breast feeding”.

The reminder was kind, but firm: “you need to look after yourself, to be around to look after others”.

The doctor was concerned enough to get me referred immediately to the Royal Marsden Rapid Diagnostics Centre. When I googled it to find the postcode, I saw, in clear terms: “The Rapid Diagnostic Centre is designed for patients with suspected cancer…”.

As I roamed the hospital, running late to my appointment, my annoyance at the traffic on the way and the queues to get registered as a patient, after paying a hefty up-front deposit, melted and gave way to fear and gratitude in equal measure.

There’s nothing like hurrying past rooms labelled ‘Chemotherapy’, and numerous waiting rooms filled with patients, flanked by stoic friends and relatives, to put decisions about your health, and feelings regarding everyday nuisances, back into perspective.

It did turn out to be benign, but I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been to put off having the problematic mole removed because I was “busy” and “it would leave a scar”.

I watched a clip saying if you want to feel better about things, start every day by making your bed. I dismissed this as silly, but I’ve come to value it as excellent advice. No matter what goes on to happen in your day, you’ve achieved something productive and feel better getting into bed that night, than if you hadn’t.

Self-care is more than keeping up-to-date with important health MOT’s, or taking days off for luxurious pampering at the spa. I’ve realised how many of the little things that I could do – for no reason other than to make myself feel good – had been sacrificed on the alter of being too busy with ‘the important things’ and how, in reality, they go hand-in-hand.

I now blow dry and wear my hair down, because it makes me feel more confident. I keep up with the laundry, so my favourite outfits are clean and folded when I want to look good. I pick all the toys up when my son is napping, so I feel like it’s my house too, etc.

I’ve reframed pointless, waste-of-time chores and indulgences in my mind. I make a little more time to do things just for me and I feel so much better for it.

Winds of change

I learned some interesting things tonight. I attended a B Corp social and was pleasantly surprised.

I learned that the B Corp movement is about more than changing your company’s constitutional documents to balance the needs of stakeholders, beyond just shareholders.

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I realised that the movement is also about creating communities of people who share an interest in business being a source for good. It’s about bringing these people together into the same room, and letting them benenfit from their common passions, innovative approaches and positive energy.

The people I met had different products or services they wanted to provide, but they all seemed to have a common goal regarding how they wanted their businesses to run. They wanted to commit to business for good, and be held accountable for this, even if it means prioritising positive impacts over shorter term profits.

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It was clear to me that B Corp owners and managers trust other B Corps and the people behind them. They want them to succeed and are confident about including them in their supply chains. They support, and are proud to be associated with, eachother. Employees of B Corps seem like positive people, motivated and fulfilled by what they do.

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I felt I could relate easily to the people in the room and enjoyed the night. I also learned that February is B Corp month, so I’m looking forward to learning more!

A year to save my life

It took me a long time to feel ready to try for a kid. There was no rational argument for why the world needed another person in it. I wanted children, all the more so after meeting the right partner, but I was in no rush. I knew it would change everything about life as we knew it.

As my son’s 1st birthday rolls around, I can only be incredibly grateful for everything this special little human has taught me.

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He’s taught me to look for the good in everyone. He loves making eye contact with anyone and everyone he comes across. To him, every person is a potential friend to be made (regardless of whether they’re snotting on you, sticking their pudgy toddler finger in your eye, pulling your hair or even giving you nasty jabs injections).

He’s taught me that life is for savouring and to live in the now. Every morning (some mornings earlier than others!) he jumps up in bed, rearing to get the day started, ready to explore and determined to keep learning. He didnt rest on his laurels when he started crawling. He immedialty started trying to pull himself up to standing. Each and every time he topples over, he gets back up and tries again to walk.

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My son lives each moment at 100 per cent. If he’s eating, he’s using every sense to experience his food. If he’s having a bath, he’s having the most fun anyone can have in water, splashing, playing and laughing his head off.

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img_20180718_215818_074Likewise, he’s taught me that if you are unhappy, get upset, scruntch up your little face and ugly cry. Real salty tears. Lie on the floor and thrash your arms and legs like it’s genuinely the end of the world. Then get up and get right over it. Just like that! Move directly on, completely forgiving and forgeting, harbour nothing.

My son was born with a little clubbed foot. He’s taught me that expectations of perfection are unrealistic and that our imperfections can become the best and cutest parts of us, making us the individuals we are.

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Importantly, and little Maguire demonstrates this to us every day, smile often and broadly, and the world will love you…

What #difference does it make?

Loads of successful professionals have reached out over the years with the same problem. They’ve dedicated years to qualifying and building careers, but find themselves feeling unfulfilled. People want to feel like they are ‘making a difference’ too.

This is something I struggled with. Much psychological energy went into questioning the ‘why’ of my role as a corporate lawyer. Consistent hard work had secured a well-regarded career, with a clear pathway, but there was something huge missing. I wasn’t sure what it was, willing to admit defeat, or do anything else because it would feel like a step down.

Working too hard, with no space to gain perspective or try something else, I poured more and more energy into climbing, one milestone at a time, but it seemed my ladder was against the wrong wall…

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I was so confused and unhappy that I eventially quit it all and moved overseas to travel and ‘find myself’. I cried buckets, asked many people for advice and researched many other options, but just found myself back in a similar position, feeling more paralysed than ever.

It wasn’t until I acted on some great advice that anything changed. To stop searching for the answer ‘out there’, to quieten the external noise and, for once, properly to the listen to the voice in the back of my mind, to what really energised me and sparked my passion.

When I finally realised my answer lay in helping to educate and empower young people, I was so cross that I hadn’t taken more time to build my experience relevant to this. There were plenty more opportunities I could have taken in my existing area to start having the impact I wanted to have, I just needed to make space to do so.

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Instead, I resigned, again with no savings or role lined up. I made a drastic career change into corporate sustainability and it was one of the hardest but best things I could have done up until…

#MummyWorks

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Almost a year ago the most life-changing thing happened to me.

I had my son.

I have always thought of pregnancy and motherhood as the most sacred things, and I guess I knew deep down that becoming a mother would shift my centre of gravity and give me one purpose above any others.

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I guess that’s partly why I focused so heavily on my education and careers before. Some part of me realised these wouldn’t be my main focus forever.

Despite this, I (stupidly) built my sense of identity and worth primarily on career. I took it too seriously and worked too hard. I chased success milestones, but often experienced short-lived senses of achievement.

Resigning to stay at home has been a big adjustment. It’s great, but it’s also prompted feelings of impending doom, anxiety about money, not having a big enough impact and not having my own identity separate from being someone’s mom.

With less time to actually.do.anything but more time alone with my thoughts, and much comfort food, insecurities and fears race around my head. Unchecked, they prompt feverish questioning: Will my tummy shrink back down? Is that all I will achieve in life? Did I really peak in high school?

My up-til-now coping mechanism for dealing with all anxiety, to just.work.harder, while a relatively socially acceptable crutch, is not that good for you. It makes you boring to be around and it’s certainly not practical when you’re in charge of your little one not sucking the batteries to the TV remote (whoops).

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The new boss

I’ve resolved to do the only sensible thing in the circumstances…

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Seems as good a time as any to start a blog.

It’s one thing, falling in love with the idea of being a writer, but how do you get there? I suppose, you have to start somewhere.

Like everything, it’s going to be a journey. Maybe, sharing my journey and my many mistakes and lessons learned will add something to someone, somewhere in the world.

At school I was best at maths-based subjects, so I went to university and focused in humanities, majoring in psychology and law. I was much better at psychology, it came much more naturally to me, so I went on to do my LLB.

I had always been passionate about helping the community and the underdog, so I went to work as an attorney in a corporate law firm, specialising in private equity and then into banking and finance.

After much agonising, existential crises and one absolute gem of good advice, I finally started listening to the little voice in the back of my head. The voice telling me what was important to me.

I realised how genuinely grateful I am for the opportunities I have had and that I wanted to help other young people to access opportunities. So, I secured an excellent, feel-good AND well-paid job in sustainability, where my role was exactly that. Amazing, considering the round-about route I’d taken to get there. Despite my lack of any formal experience, and it being the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, I was OK at it!

For five years I helped build a social investment team with phenomenal individuals in it and was incentivised to stay, so…