Monday, 26 September 2016

Reclaim your lunch break

How many times have you been at your desk at work, looked up at the clock only to find that you're 20 minutes into your lunch break or that it's nearly 2.30pm and the last time you got up was to grab a sandwich before returning dutifully back to your desk. I can't say that this happens to me often - as soon as it hits 1.00pm I am up and out of my office building in a bid to walk around, eat, catch up with a book I'm reading or just generally take a break from the office. However, I notice that a lot of people around me at work rarely do this and opt for eating at their desk while continuing to work.

The guilt factor 

Eating at your desk can be very easy to do, and, before you know it, your lunch break turns into a fleeting thought or even a luxury you once had.  I often urge my current manager to take her full lunch break and get out of the office, to enjoy the one hour away and return to her desk feeling refreshed with a clear mind. I understand however, that demands don't stop and taking a full hour away from the desk can induce strange feelings of guilt or overbearing anxiety that you're going to seem unproductive. To think that you need to power on, that you have too much to do and that to take an hour out of your working day will, somehow, be unproductive is, in itself, very counter productive. There are many health benefits - both mental and physical - in taking a full one hour lunch break away from your desk that include clearer thinking, restoring energy levels or simply bonding with colleagues.  But if you are made to feel guilty about taking one hour out of the day to yourself, what does that say about society and the work culture? About the value employers place on the well-being of their employees? Remember that you are simply human - munching away at your desk on last nights left overs is not a fully qualified lunch break, it is more your body reminding you that you are not a robot and you do in fact need to eat, at the very least.

Your lunch break is sacred

Since leaving university and entering the professional working world, I have two burning questions -

1. Why are we so determined to possibly sabotage our health, productivity and overall well-being for just one extra hour of answering emails or typing away at a report?
2. Who are these God-awful people who schedule meetings during lunch time?

I've had days, of course, were I've inevitably had to eat at my desk due to changing deadlines and last minute requests that are time sensitive. It can sometimes be unavoidable. On those days I find myself hating everything and everyone - the hours seem to last longer while my concentration and energy levels are in dire need of some refuel. What I've come to realise is that your lunch break is indeed sacred. It's golden hour and a time to forget about your to do list. My argument for this is simple - out of the 35 - 40+ hours we work a week, what is the real harm in taking out 5 hours for ourselves.

The world will not implode

Go back to basics with some good, old fashioned bonding and ask a colleague if they want to get some lunch - you never know where conversation could take you and what relationships could blossom. Whatever the weather is like, go for a walk (or if you really can't face the cold outside, take a break in your office kitchen/canteen). Call your mum. Run some errands. Find a bench and read a book or magazine or newspaper or just people watch. If the work really can't wait, schedule a business lunch and talk strategies and upcoming projects while deciding if you want a side of sweet potato fries (who doesn't?) Or do absolutely nothing - we are always looking for ways to fill up every single minute of every single day that doing nothing but eat can be very calming.

Whatever it is that you choose to do, just make sure that it's away from your desk and computer screen.  

I understand that for many, taking a lunch break simply is not an option. Horrible bosses, very bad company culture or working in medical care can easily contribute to the lunch break being an elusive myth one can only imagine but never truly experience. But if you do work an office job and your boss is somewhat reasonable, taking a lunch break will not diminish your work ethic or put your bonus in jeopardy. Work hard, get in to work earlier if needs be, but use that one hour as it's meant to be used - as a well deserved break.

Even if the work is piling up, even if your to do list has just doubled, even if you think the world will implode* if you step away for one hour, take that one hour and reclaim it back in all its entirety.
Go on, take a break.

Do you regularly take your lunch break at work?

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*This probably won't happen. I hope.

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Friday, 23 September 2016

Teenage ambition // Musings

Between the ages of 5 and 15 I wanted to be 101 different things ‘when I grow up’. I started out my childhood wanting to be a nurse before my dad told me to aim as high as possible and set my sights on becoming a surgeon. This was, of course, humorously stereotypical of a Nigerian father but, unbeknownst to him, it prompted obsessions with high flying, slightly impossible careers. For a large portion of time, I wanted to be an actress, but like, a multi-millionaire-Beverley-hills-living-I-only-drink-water-from-the-mountains Hollywood actress. I also convinced myself to take up a sport so that I could, eventually, compete in the Olympics (obviously). I tried everything from Field Hockey to Cycling, from Netball to Running, only to realise that my body was not made for such things. At one time I thought I should pursue a career in science and be the one to discover indisputable evidence that there actually is life on Mars. But there came a point where my grades in science didn’t really reflect this ambition so I thought it best to be realistic for once and let that dream go. Then, I shifted my attention to music and took up piano lessons for a summer and came to the conclusion that the age of 15 was too late to play a musical instrument and become the next Beethoven. It was all or nothing for me and I didn’t want to settle for anything less. I thought about architecture, about modelling, about owning my own store a la Bloomingdales or Harrods, about pursuing a career in design and even about teaching at Oxford. Name a career and I would have spent weeks, months, or even years, researching and convincing myself that I could pursue that.

One thing I will always be grateful about is that, despite whatever hare-brained idea I had to pursue a certain activity or vocation, both of my parents were supportive. Probably because they knew I’d get bored and move on eventually – but, nevertheless, there was no ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘I’m not sure it’s the best thing for you to do’. In fact, out of everyone, my parents encouraged me to think about these things and to ask ‘why not?’ This was, of course, until I got to college and all of a sudden I was making what seemed to be the irreversible decision as to what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At which point my dad pretty much pulled me in the direction of Law.

Nevertheless, I wanted to do and be everything I possibly could in one lifetime. It seems a shame that, as we get older, we are directed into one single minded way of thinking – to believe that we can and should only have one career path. To become one thing and stick with that for ever, which will define who you are seems a bit daunting.

However, I’m now willing myself to take some inspiration from my teenage self and realise that I still can and should do everything and anything (within reason, of course), despite having a full time job that uses up 70% of my energy (the other 30% is used up by navigating my way around London and trying not to get lost… again). I have started to meet people who, despite also working full time, are really into fitness and work out five times a week (!), or who freelance as graphic/web designers after work, who teach a language or musical instrument, who go to free talks to learn more, have a mini business on the side, who blog, take part in their community or volunteer their time for great causes. They are bad ass women and men who are refusing to be defined by their job title alone or how much money they make. Being on a certain career path and progressing in your chosen field is a vital part of your life, but it doesn’t have to be the be all and end all and as human beings we are so much more complex than that. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, be the defining fact about you. When someone asks you what you do, feel free to let them know your career, but also all the other wonderful things that you spend your spare time doing. 

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Thursday, 1 September 2016

There's no place like home

It wasn't until I turned 25 last December that I fully understood the meaning of the phrase 'there's no place like home'. After moving to London and feeling lost in a sea of people and noise for 3-4 months, I finally got online, booked my train tickets and went back to Nottingham. I discovered that it is true what they say - there really is no place like home.

Growing up, my mum would always say this phrase to me over and over, with a longing in her eyes to one day return to her own home; Nigeria.  Many years later, I now fully understand what she meant. She was referring to the fact that there's nothing like the familiarity of your childhood bed, or the noise the stairs make when you creep down them in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. She was pointing out the fact that everything remains the same, even though so much (of you) has changed and will continue to do so. There is no place where you'd rather be to hide from a storm or dance well into the night. It's the first place you think of calling when you hear news - good or bad.

What I had yet to understand was that 'home' is the place where your heart feels easy. Where it knows that it belongs and can stay as long as it needs. It's a place of feeling, of comfort and solace - where no words have to be exchanged or explanations given. It's a place of indescribable contentment. The kind that offers comfort and a sense of safety that no place you've seen has been able to offer you so far.

Home is the memories with your siblings. It's remembering the childhood games you played in the long summer days. It's the resenting 'I'm sorry' after the argument to end all arguments. It's the embarrassing moments only you share together. It's being safe in the knowledge that wherever you may travel, there's a connection that started long before your existence that you can always find your way back to.

It's the distinct smell of your mothers cooking - the spices and fried plantain that can be smelt from halfway down the street. It's the surprise 'I'm making Moi Moi' your mum calls out as you enter the house. It's the deafening silence in the middle of the night and the rush of movement in the morning. It's the feeling of restlessness - of wanting to move on to the next adventure. But not yet, maybe next week, month or year.

It's a place that, despite my best efforts, is difficult to describe. What does it mean to be home? It means comfort, safety, familiarity, and memories you thought you'd long forgotten. It's a building, a city, and, more importantly, it's a person, or group of people, that truly define the word home.

What is your definition of home?

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