The HR Juggler


All of our actions have an effect. Often we don’t know how strong the effect will be until the action has been taken for the first time: whether it will be a small pebble, slipping almost unnoticed into the water’s smooth surface, whether it will be a stone skimming across a lake creating a series of ripples, or whether the ripples gather momentum to form a wave, shifting the landscape around us and our sense of what impact our actions can have.

The beginning of this story is known to most of you. I published a guest blog in January last year, we held an HR for Mental Health event. For me, it has always been not so much those early actions which matter, the short-term reaction to the events that unfolded, but whether and how I can use those actions and the experience to effect tangible change in the business that I work in, even in the smallest of ways. Pressing ‘publish’ on the original blog post was never going to be enough on its own.

We’re now a year on and I’m proud that there are some concrete things that I can report, some ripples that have been created. In early January, my learning and development team and I met with Jon Bartlett to discuss how we could include aspects of mental health and wellness into our management training. Early next month, they, I and another HR colleague are hosting and attending Jon and Charlotte Walker’s (@BipolarBlogger) first Mental Health First Aid training course across two days. Next week, there is a one day mental health awareness course being facilitated for the Heads of HR across my wider organisation, to open a dialogue about the topic, to demystify it and to start to plan what steps and actions we will take elsewhere in the business, however small. I have had some positive conversations about incorporating it into our overall corporate responsibility programme and have been asked to report on what we have done to date and what more is planned.

Ripples start small but they build up, have a cumulative effect. I have learned that if you want change to happen, if you care enough and are in a position to have some influence, sometimes you have to be the one to keep pushing the change, to embody the change and to be the one that continues to bring it up and find a way to make it work. It’s taken me much longer than I might have imagined a year ago, to start to make those ripples and work towards making a wave on my home territory. The important thing though is that it is happening now.

So that’s me, a year on. How about you? And if you are where I was for ages, starting to start conversations, or even just thinking about starting them, knowing that you want to do something more and that your organisation is potentially willing, or might be given the chance….how can I help?

Once you start to make a ripple, it can go a long way… 🙂


Last time I wrote about progress, having run 14 miles, further than I had ever run before. In my head, I know I am still making progress, even more so than previously, as my long run last Sunday reached the once unimaginable length of 17 miles and I felt OK afterwards. And yet, and yet….this marathon training is messing with my mind and sometimes it’s not the long runs, but the short ones that seem a struggle. Runs where I try and fail to match the pace of the group. Runs where I feel sluggish and slow and can’t seem to propel myself forwards fast enough. Runs where I feel like I am just getting slower, despite all of the hours and miles I am putting in. Runs that leave me feeling bruised and disheartened and inadequate.

Of course, there are a million different reasons for this. I was tired, I didn’t fuel myself up adequately, I’m running with a faster group. It doesn’t change the fact that it feels tough. I know progress isn’t always linear, that setbacks are inevitable in this journey to running a marathon. I also know that it doesn’t matter…to anyone but me…whether I fly round the course or plod at the pace of a tortoise. It’s the doing it that counts and the relentless, unforgiving preparation. But also not just this…it’s the fundraising for an amazing charity, the personal challenge and achievement of doing something I have too often dismissed as impossible, that is the real lasting jewel here, the sense in the apparently nonsensical. The thing that really matters.

So, I had a bad run today. But, no one died. No one would have cared, apart from me, were it not for the fact that it made me upset afterwards. It doesn’t matter, because I will run again another day and next time it will be different and better. Running and marathon training brings with it highs and lows…yet also great learnings in the power that the mind exerts over the body in what is and isn’t possible.

There are 52 days between now and the Brighton marathon on 6th April. I say bring it on!

If you would like to sponsor me in this crazy endeavour, the link is here

Alison and Flora

I’m in training to run my first marathon in April and I’ve just reached what feels like a very significant milestone: on Friday, I ran 14 miles for the first time, the furthest I have ever run. One of the most surprising things is that it didn’t feel that big a deal when I was running it, it just felt like a natural progression from what I have been doing up until now. Which, to be fair, was exactly what it was. The other thing that has really surprised me about my training so far is how much I’m enjoying it. When I have trained for half marathons in the past, the longer distances have always felt tough and something of a chore and I often experienced something of a love/hate relationship with training and running in general at those times.

So what has changed? I guess that I’m probably fitter than I have ever been, I’ve been running four times a week since mid-November and I’ve been clocking up a fair few miles: 100 miles during December and I’m already over that figure for January. I’ve also taken nutrition and hydration more seriously, which has helped. But much more than this, it’s the social aspect of running which is making me enjoy the training more this time around. Firstly, because the marathon is a joint endeavour with my fantastic friend Flora and we are really sharing the experience, through meeting up for runs in different parts of the country, texting, chatting, emailing and generally supporting each other every step of the way. That’s made a huge difference to how I’m viewing the journey and the prospect of the marathon itself.

Secondly, I’ve made so many new running friends. I had tried running with the local club before, but it had never quite clicked for me. This time though, I took what felt at the time like the very brave step of joining the small Friday morning spin-off group of the running club, which was mostly made up of retired or semi-retired older men! I can honestly say it’s been the most brilliant running group I could have hoped for – supportive, encouraging, fun, generous in sharing their experience (there are a couple of serious, serial marathon runners amongst them), sociable and inspiring. We also follow up our runs most weeks with coffee and cakes at the local café…what’s not to like?! As the group has grown, it has also in turn led me to new friendships, adventures and experiences and challenged me in different ways, whether that is running faster or further than I imagined, or simply on different terrain. Sure, there are still days when I don’t really feel like going for a run…but those days are not frequent, and the fact that there is usually someone waiting for me so that we can run together, means that I don’t think too much about it and just get going.

Flora wrote a great post about our learnings so far. There are a few more that I have been musing about too.

  • It’s easy to look at other people and worry about the fact that they seem to be running further, faster, better than you. Chances are that there are just as many who have not done as much training, have run fewer miles at a slower pace…it’s just that you don’t notice them so much! At the end of the day though, it really doesn’t matter and you only ever train for and run your own race, nobody else’s.
  • Last week I was fortunate enough to hear Debra Searle MBE speak at our staff conference and there were two particular aspects of her talk that particularly resonated with me. Firstly, that whatever else is going on and however tough things seem, you can always make the effort to choose your attitude towards it and decide the reasons why you are choosing that frame of mind. This is something that I am definitely starting to consciously do, both when I run and when I am doing other things
  • Another pearl of wisdom from Debra was around comfort zones and how, when you are operating outside of your own, they do not remain rigid, rather they start to shift towards you and what seemed impossible, becomes eminently doable and no longer seems scary. For a long time I thought running a marathon would be beyond me; now I simply feel pleased and proud that I am progressing towards that goal and working to make it a reality. That really is something to celebrate :).

So, that’s my training update! Flora and I are raising funds for Mind and the MS Society with our marathon and if you would like to sponsor us, you can find the link here. Thanks so much for all your support.

PS. The picture at the top is Flora and I after having run a very muddy, wet 12.5 miles together at the beginning of January. We are due our next run together this weekend, which will be 16 miles in the New Forest 🙂


The lovely Flora has written an update on our marathon training progress. I will also write about how we are getting on…but for now, she’s done such a brilliant and articulate job, I thought I would share her post here. If you are able to sponsor either or both of us, we’d appreciate it hugely!


Happy Christmas Eve! I hope you’re feeling festive and ready for the forthcoming celebrations, however you will spend the day. This is the last of the advent blogs proper – I’ve gone old skool and reverted to a traditional 24 door calendar this year. There may be one or two ‘reprise’ posts to follow after the festivities have finished…just in case you miss your daily dose of stories and stakes 🙂

Today’s post is different for many reasons…it is a haiku and is mainly pictures rather than words. It tells the story of the year that Jon Bartlett has experienced…from writing that anonymous blog in January, to everything that followed from there. For me, it’s a powerful story of courage, tenacity, struggle, possibility and hope. You can find Jon on Twitter (@Projectlibero) and over on his excellent blog.

Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath who has done a fabulous job of illustrating all of these advent blogs….thank you!


So here we are, year 3 of the advent blogs yet I’m on my 4th submission. Last year I took up two spaces, the first of these was anonymous. The second was attributed, done deliberately to make sure that no-one could guess I was the writer of the first blog. Last January was a scary time. I felt like there was a lot at stake, commercial risk and social approval being top of the list.

The second blog sank without trace but that anonymous one just kept on getting shared, so in the end I came clean. I took the risk of the exposure but then a funny thing happened. People started sharing their own stories, started talking about mental health. We all started to make that a normal, (and at times, even comfortable) conversation.

Of late however, due to the pressures of therapy words have been hard to come by, I’m reminded of the quote by Ansel Adams the great American photographer.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

So whilst my images do not bear comparison with Adams they speak to me. The images here remind me of my past and present and also inspire my future

Thank you all for your kindness and support. I honestly could not have achieved all I did this year without you. I wish you a Merry Christmas and the Happiest New Year.

P.S. If the pictures aren’t enough for you, then here is the thinking behind each image – and yes I did take them all, even the one with me in it.

January – Anonymity – I was safe but adrift somewhere in my mind.

February – Exposure – I took the decision at the #HR4MH event to disclose my identity.

March – Dialogue – So many good conversations this month.

April – Hectic – The respite of work.

May – Surgery – Knee surgery and getting new medication for my mind.

June – Momentum – Finally getting back on the bike (albeit very slowly)

July – Therapy – After 16 months of waiting I finally started therapy.

August – Struggle – Therapy becomes harder and harder.

September – Preservation – The urge to run from therapy, from the analysis, is immense.

October – Advocacy – Honoured to be asked to represent the charity Mind at Parliament for World Mental Health Day.

November – Adjustment – The doctors agree to me coming off medication to allow the therapy to work more effectively.

December – Reflection – An emotional year draws to a close. I struggle to express it all.

2014 – Possibility – There are several exciting announcements coming, watch out in the first few days of the New Year.


And especially for Jon, his favourite Christmassy piece of music

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and all the very best for 2014!


Today’s post is the first ever blog post written by Sarah Mason. She may well be a bag of nerves by the time this goes live and be peeking at the published post through her fingers! I know that you’ll be full of encouragement for her – it’s easy to forget how terrifying writing your first blog is! It’s my pleasure and privilege to post such a fantastic debut :). You can find Sarah on Twitter @SarMason12.

Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath.


The theme for these advent blogs is ‘stakes’; a brilliant topic with a number of meanings and provoking a variety of themes.  Some of the previous posts have focused on staking out boundaries or loosening their stakes and providing some fantastic insight.  For my take on the theme, a stake is a gamble with something valuable. And in this case, the stake is the security and status that comes from a permanent role as HR Director for a growing business.

In the last few years I’ve experienced a few lightbulb moments, causing me to stop and reflect.  Those moments that, whilst not comfortable, are certainly worth paying attention to.  It took me a while to figure out the best response, but as a result, this year has been the year of action and commitment.

The first lightbulb to go off cane in the form of a big dose of self-awareness.  Like many of you, I’ve done plenty of work on this, both through individual development and 360 feedback, and also through developing other leaders to themselves become more self-aware.  So learning something so fundamental and yet so unknown about myself really floored me.

Part of my internal value set has always been about toeing the company line, about fitting into a larger structure. I guess you could say being a good girl. Yet apparently not.  Maybe those who know me won’t be as surprised that it turns out I’m actually someone who continually challenges the status quo (the word ‘maverick’ was used by several people).  I was lucky enough to discover this on a leadership development session led by a skilled external facilitator who helped introduce the idea.

My executive coach, the amazing Craig Sclare from Rambutan, helped me to see that ‘Maverick’ is not necessarily a negative thing and moved me from being horrified to slow acceptance.  The Chemistry Group were kind enough to run some value-based psychometrics that showed my conformity level was extremely low.  They pointed out that a number of their staff had low conformity scores and they were perfectly happy with that.

Given my background in the ‘command and control’ world of the recruitment industry, it was refreshing and reassuring to learn that low conformity can be a good thing.

So far, so surprising and, of course, classic change curve behaviour kicked in with denial swiftly followed by resistance. I spent some time trying to be more conformist, which unsurprisingly wasn’t hugely successful.  But then I started exploring how I could perhaps make it work for me.  I reflected back on my career and this insight helped me make sense of some of the previous events.  I decided to take the leap, to change my career path and to work for myself.  To ensure I gave it a proper go, and not panic and accept the first permanent role I was offered, I signed up for a part time MSc in Organisational Change – I knew consultancy work would help me fit in studying.

And then I resigned from the secure permanent role that I loved.

A big step.

Which is, serendipitously, when the second lightbulb moment happened.  A MSc lecture on Protean careers started to make my decision seem more rational and less emotional.  Research points to a shift from organisational careers, working our way up ladders within companies, to self-directed values-driven careers where the individual shapes their own career based on their values.  That’s not to say it’s right for everyone;  most people I know are really suited to organisational careers.  But for me right now, a Protean career seems worth exploring.

It is a gamble though.  Like all gambles there’s a potential financial loss – in this case from walking away from a regular pay cheque.  I need to provide for my family so the lack of financial security is not insignificant.  There are some other things I stand to lose – I love the people I worked with in my last role and I will really miss developing and leading teams.

High stakes indeed.

But I could stand to win.  Autonomy.  Fulfilment.  Authenticity. Flexibility.  Self development.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  It’s a calculated risk too.  Through Twitter, I’ve met a load of people who have chosen this path and are making it work.   I find that massively encouraging.

As I reflect on the year, I think I’ve learnt a lot; development is always important to me.  I can’t say I have absolute clarity, or total confidence, on what the next year holds but I plan to have fun finding out.  And who knows, maybe in the future I will end up back in an organizational career with a company that values challenge?

The stakes are high, but so are the potential rewards. For now, I’m committed to seeing if my gamble pays off.


I love the way that people can come into our lives through all sorts of different routes, something that is particularly prevalent in our use of social media channels. Today’s post is written by Tracey Pallett, a friend of a couple of good friends of mine, who in turn is fast becoming a friend in her own right. From my interactions with her, I’ve found her to be articulate, principled, generous, feisty, loyal, honest and fun. You can find Tracey on Twitter (@EhOhSaysYes) and over on her blog.

Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath.


The stakes are high, but the change is worth it.

For the last two years I have been on a whirlwind romance with a national charity; the main focus of this romance was being about to talk openly about my mental health and sharing my journey through mental health darkness with others, showing them that there is light just around the corner.  Though sadly it all came to an end this summer, and while at the time it felt a great loss, afterwards it showed there was more to life than placing all of your eggs in one basket.

It all started when I wrote a blog about my initial journey; sharing the depths of depression, addiction, domestic violence and homelessness, and how I worked hard to overcome the horrors that visited in my nightmares every night.  While to me it was written as a form of escapism, to others it was like a breath of fresh air to hear someone come out the other end of what a lot of people struggle to overcome.  People would ask me how I came out of something like that, how did I cope with the life changes I went through, or how did I do that all on my own.  My answer was always “because I had to.” There was no ‘choice’ in the actions I took to get out of that situation; I had to do what I had to do.

So, when this blog was published by a charity, the response from people was overwhelming and it led to more amazing opportunities to come my way.  I was asked by the charity to work as a Peer Reviewer for their local organisations, I was given the opportunity to help develop a national website of theirs, I was given the chance to help other people with mental health conditions on a Peer Support basis.  While doing the ‘hands on’ work there were more adventures that were passed in my direction; advertising, publicity, media work, and the most amazing of all was to become one of the faces of this charity.   This was an opportunity to let the world know about this charity without actually saying a word to anyone, my face drew people in to look further in their own time.  It allowed people to see that there was help out there for mental health and that they’re not alone.  This is such a proud moment in my life, especially when you take into account how my life was just 5 years previously.

Then things changed, my view of life changed, my view of how to help people changed and due to circumstances which appeared out of my control I had to make the ultimate sacrifice.  I had to walk away from this amazing world I once loved and would have done anything for.  When it happened I was in shock, I didn’t know where I could turn to for support and I didn’t know who I could trust to discuss the details of what happened.  From letting people know that they are not alone with mental illness, I felt alone myself.  I didn’t know what was going to happen from here on, and I didn’t know whether the stakes of losing this relationship was worth the pain I was feeling.  The future just didn’t look so bright anymore.

While this magical journey was going on, on the side lines I worked my way into medical school.  At the time it felt that medical school was on the back burner while I was happily talking about mental health and making sure people didn’t feel alone.  Though, through the tears and pain I came to realise that I had worked just as hard to get into medical school as I did to get out of that dark period of my life.  Although I went to therapy to work through the emotions of my recent loss, it was talking with friends who reminded me that getting into university was an amazing feat, but to get into medical school was something very special indeed.  For the first time in two years I was able to look at what I could make from my life, for my life.  Why should this incredible journey end here because I couldn’t see the wonder of medical school and where I can take it.

What was at stake for me was losing this relationship with a charity, losing friendships because I couldn’t talk about it, losing my own blogging identity, no longer feeling I had direction in my life.  Though what came out of this loss was something that I feel would never have happened unless I did walk away; the ability to see strengths in myself, to see a future in education, to know that I can make a good doctor, that I can help people from the other side of the desk.  I now have purpose again and with friends helping me see there are great things to discover in the medical world, I can continue to grow and learn.  I can appreciate myself once more.

While the stakes were high in walking away from homelessness, to me the stakes we just as high walking away from this charity.  Though on both occasions, leaving these things behind me has need up a whole new world to me; a world that I want to be part of and enjoy to its fullest, a world of amazement and wonder that can only lead to one thing; true joy and happiness.  It has taught me to not be afraid of change, but to embrace it and take control of where the journey goes from here.

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