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education

Back of a woman looking at the sea. Via Felipe Elioenay via Unsplash
Journalism, Just stuff, Life in general, Online journalism, what I think

Resolutions (sort of): Looking back, then looking forward

Yes, this IS what you’re thinking it is; an obligatory New Year post talking about resolutions and all that annual bollocks. Sorry about that. Sort of.

Now, Facebook will have us believe that 2016 has been a bad year because a lot of well-known and talented celebrities have died throughout the course of it. This doesn’t constitute a bad year in my books and, without being entirely unsympathetic, people die all the time, famous or not. Bad things have happened each year, we’re just more aware of them because of the 24/7 news and social media cycle we are immersed in. These things do not have the ability to ruin my whole year and undo the personal achievements I and others around me have made.

So, let’s have a quick look back at 2016 – highlights include hubby relaunching his business with vigour and watching him thrive, win awards, do interviews and generally be awesome. Even if that did involve me having to be at the other end of almost nightly conversations about Google search rankings *yawn*.

For me, I am about to run the last leg of my MA in Online Journalism, (which gets a name change in 2017) having restarted in January after a few years off to have the kids. And I’m thankful to my good friend Kate for pushing me back on that track, because I could quite easily have let it go. What the MA has and continues to teach me is that knowledge is power, feeding the mind feels great and working hard (and trust me, it IS hard) to achieve good marks is an unbelievable feeling. When some days I struggle to put contact lenses in, find matching socks and get the kids to nursery on time, knowing I’m working at postgraduate level is both shocking, monumental and addictive. The MA has also motivated me to re-examine my career aspirations and given me the confidence to follow those dreams… so let’s see if 2017 brings them to fruition.

And let’s not forget I have survived another year being mum to Irish twins. At the time of writing this I am the proud owner of TWO three-year-olds (born either end of the same year) and we have all survived the tantrums (theirs and mine), throwing stuff (them and me) and inability to put shoes on quickly (mostly them). They test me every day and make me laugh every day and they’re my proudest achievement to date.

So, looking ahead to 2017, here’s what I’ll be focusing on:

Giving less fucks

My resolution of 2016 was inspired by Sarah Knight’s awesome book which taught me not to give a fuck about everything. If you want the full lowdown, get the book, but in short, not feeling guilty about declining invites, saying no to things and ignoring stuff was truly liberating and freed up a lot of time to focus on the things I enjoy. My resolution also inspired other friends to take the same stance and when you’re a busy parent/employee/boss/wife/athlete/sister/dog walker/creative person it’s absolutely okay not to give a fuck about everything. Sarah Knight also has a new book out about how to get your shit together *adds to Amazon wishlist*

Limiting Facebook time

Did I hear a gasp then? Yes, that’s right… Facebook is great for keeping up with friends I don’t see very often or catching up on a bit of gossip. But it’s also filled with a lot of small-chunking shite. And I don’t have time for it. I should not be a slave to notifications. As thus, I may reduce my Facebook intake slightly and focus on other channels later in the year, like using Instagram to drive traffic to my blog (hmmm, will need to start writing more posts before tackling that one).

Meal planning hell

This is a family related one but I cannot get my head around meal planning and grocery shopping. I can easily implement efficient systems at work and home to get shit done, but the food shop/meal planner thing simply baffles me. Earlier this year I tried meal planning and just found it a huge headache and more expensive than dashing into Aldi and scraping a few things into the trolley. I also want to change up our grocery list a bit instead of getting the same old stuff. If you have any systems that work for you, I would love to hear them.

Graduation

The biggest one for me is to complete the MA. By the middle of May I’ll be all submitted (shit, that means I have A LOT of work to do), should have passed (I won’t hold my breath) a few weeks later and graduate few weeks after that. I literally cannot wait for this. The MA has taught me so much, not just about online journalism, but about me as a person, my capabilities and what I want in the future. I’m also excited because completing the MA will free up a ridiculous amount of time for me to focus on all of the above and new things to boot. This blog, for starters, will get a complete makeover and some regular posts. Bring it on!

Education

The MA is educating my mind, but my body and soul are lacking. The body bit is as simple as eating better, getting some exercise and getting enough sleep. And healthier food shops, better eating habits (which I’ve learned from doing the Clean 9 earlier this year) and going to bed earlier (possibly with some wind down time courtesy of the Headspace app) are all well within my control. I’m not yet sure how I will educate my soul and this will become a focus for me post-May when my MA is complete and I have time and mental capacity to focus on other things. Thoughts welcome – Volunteering? Writing? Mentoring? Watch this space.

Have you made any resolutions?

What are your achievements from 2016 and what are you hoping to achieve in 2017?

Journalism, Life in general, Online journalism

Creating more ‘me time’ by studying: 7 reasons why I’m doing an MA

Photo by Padurariu Alexandru via Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/Yvl081TVnvASigning up for a Masters degree seems like a strange thing to do to find time for yourself but, for me, getting some much-needed ‘Robyn time’ has been a surprising consequence of studying.

When I started the MA four years ago (pre-children, with a full-time job) I enjoyed study but was resentful of the amount of hours it consumed each week, especially in the run up to an assignment deadline. I was caught in this limbo land of enjoying the topics, the learning and the upskilling, but begrudging the time, the brain strain and the effort required. Alongside the fear of failure, of course.

Now I spin many more plates, I work the equivalent of four days a week, I have two toddlers born 11 months apart (which means more of everything – washing, cleaning, shopping, cooking), have a dog to walk, a netball team to play in and, occasionally, some friends to catch up with. Oh, and I LOVE sleeping. So free time is pretty non-existent.

NB I said more cooking above and this is a blatant lie – hubby is the cook in our family so this is one thing I don’t generally have to do too much of. But I am in charge of the washing machine!

What the hell am I doing?

To remind you all (do you like how I phrased that, to make to make it sound like someone is actually reading this?!) I’m embarking on the second half of the MA in Online Journalism, part-time via online distance learning with Birmingham City University. And hats off to them, for welcoming me back to study (first year completed before I had Child Numero Uno) mid-way through an academic year and extending the limits of flexibility. A week-by-week approach works less well for me (some weeks will be quiet and others manic). BCU handed over a whole module block to me, to work through in 12 weeks in any way I pleased and giving me complete control over which tutorials to do when. And my tutor (the guy who reassures me I’ve got the right end of this online journalism stick) is a call or email away if I need him.

There are lots of positives that come with immersing myself in a world of learning, but the most surprising thing has been that I feel like I’m getting quality me time. The time I spend on tutorials and project work and research is time for me, to get some quality alone time with the Mac or iPad Mini, read some interesting stuff, try some cool things, talk to some inspiring people. It’s all about me, and that feels pretty good – a common side effect of being a busy working mum with hobbies and interests is that time for yourself drops by the wayside.
Here’s why the MA is proving worthwhile:

1) It’s a confidence booster

Just being accepted onto an MA course (I don’t have a degree) was a huge confidence boost and I confess to being hugely nervous about returning to study post-kids, confident in the fact many of my brain cells were thrown out with the placenta during childbirth. That’s two placentas in the space of a year so probably a lot of brain cells. I repeat myself, forget things and talk shit far more than I used to (and that was quite a lot). So being able to grasp concepts, contribute valuable ideas and communicate at MA level does wonders for self-confidence. It’s easy to lose a sense of yourself when you’re a working mum and this claws some of that back. I’m remembering what I like, what I’m good at and that I’m multi-dimensional. I’ve discovered that…

2) I have a brain

I definitely have a brain, although it malfunctions on a regular basis. But my brain is starting to work in a different way, thanks to the MA. I’ve always been good at getting shit done but I’m now asking questions and looking at different ways to approach, organise and do things. I’m becoming more strategic. The way the MA is delivered – online and with a ‘learn by doing’ approach, I’m being forced out of my comfort zone and stretching those brain cells. Don’t get me wrong, my brain is working so hard I probably have some kind of internal bleed, but when you come out the other side of a mental block it’s quite a nice feeling. I am not an academic by any stretch of the imagination but I do have a brain. Which leads nicely into…

3) Impact on work

The MA directly relates to what I do for a living and it’s having an impact on how I conduct myself at work. I have more knowledge stored away and more resources – from contacts to apps to books to technology – to help me. I’m approaching ideas from a journalist’s point of view again and having that external focus really helps when trying to promote an organisation from the inside. On the flip side, work is also helping with the MA. I’m getting to test theories and tools during the working day which contributes to my learning journey without eating into personal time. And…

4) It’s good to talk

I have more to talk about beyond business as usual (work), toddler tantrums and threenagers (home). This latest module on enterprise and innovation is helping me to help my husband, who runs his own web design agency, and we’re swapping advice on entrepreneurship over the dinner table (our dinners on our laps on the sofa). I’m swapping ideas with colleagues about the way we brainstorm content and campaigns, the way we tell stories, the channels we use and confidently doing things that stretch me at work and tick an assignment box at the same time – mobile video interviews and editing, for example, which I’ve been doing for both. Trust me, I like talking brainless shit too but it’s nice to talk semi-intelligently at times too. This also helps build…

5) A growing network of useful contacts

It’s no coincidence that my network of followers on Twitter has grown since jumping back on the MA trail. Not only do I have more to talk about offline, I’m more chatty online too. I have more to say and on a different range of topics including entrepreneurship, digital marketing and small business and this is reflected in my new following. I’m not showing off here, by the way, just pointing out that growing a following organically is a nice consequence of study and learning new shiz. Add all the points above together and this means I am…

6) Making more of my spare time

The spare time I get now is hugely limited and therefore massively valuable. So I make the most of it. When I collapse on the sofa to catch up on The Night Manager or watch a movie with hubby, I know I truly deserve it (I know, a movie night, I’m so rock and roll). I think the more you do things, the less you enjoy them and I was guilty of using up my spare time slumped on the sofa, thinking it was the only way to switch off and relax after a busy day. Now my sofa slumps are rare but utterly earned. So I’m enjoying everything else outside of study a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, my life consists of shifts, juggling acts, running to and fro and my social life has taken a huge hit as study comes first. Me and the hubby are like ships passing in the night but I have a little over a year to go and it’ll be worth it. Family holidays, breaks and date nights in between will be enjoyed all the more during this hectic time. Learning to make the most of your time is, to me, just as important as learning how to critically evaluate a project. And finally…

7) I want to leave a legacy

I’m the first member of my family to enter university-level education. I don’t believe university qualifications are the best route into careers and won’t be pushing my kids towards uni if it’s not for them (I ignored it when I was 18 and it did me no harm), but I’m proud to be doing it now, aged 36. And I feel like I’m setting a good example for my children – that you can achieve things at different times of your life and you can combine work, family and education and survive (I say that, I still have a year to go so will report back then. If you don’t hear from me, maybe I didn’t make it). I literally cannot wait for my graduation, should I be lucky enough to get there. And how awesome is it that my tiddlywinks will be able to be there and be as proud of me as I am of them.

But…

There is a downside though… studying means there is no time for reading for fun so I have a huge backlog of novels to catch up on. And I’m juggling more to do lists than ever before – thankfully, Wunderlist makes this SO much easier.