It’s a glorious Sunday morning here in Darwin. I’ve had a bright and early start to the day. An hour of gardening while it was still nice and cool; the ground was easy to dig after the rain last night. Next task, cleaning the pool filter, two load of washing on the line and all before breakfast. The lawn needs mowing, but that can wait till it’s cooler!
There’s always a bunch of stuff to be done when you have a house and garden. Sometimes I think it would be quite wonderful to just sail off into the sunset.
My friend Toots has done just that! I first met Toots, through the world of breast cancer, when we were introduced by Pat Hancock. Toots was always a staunch supporter of Dragons Abreast, helping out in different ways over the years.
Today, Toots is living a life many dream of – retired and sailing off into the sunset. On Australia Day, this post appeared on her wall:
‘We interrupt this transmission to bring breaking news from aboard ‘Niaete’.. where a clandestine operation of war against terror has been won.
Ratty Bin Liner member of the cell group known as ‘FR’ .. (F&@#ing Rats) .. not to be mistaken with that other cell known as ‘FC’ (F&@#ing Cockroaches) has been captured.
Ratty Bin Liner caused havoc on board in food lockers completely disrupting life on board as it was known!
After attacking cartons of UHT milk, it was a real threat to the crew that the supply of cafe lattes and cappuccinos may be short, and in the rush of it all, ingredients for ‘elevensies’ were briefly misplaced.
The comment of ‘Praise be that the wine is in glass bottles, not casks!’ was heard uttered a few times.
Ratty Bin Liner was escorted off board with a resounding farewell from all crew of ‘F@$#k off yah l’il bastard!’ and being Australia Day, sent off on his own sticky glue surf board, of which he seemed quite attached!’
PS. No photos of Bin Liner available as the photographer was at the other end of the boat, far away as possible!
I had a great chuckle, and it made me smile all day. It also confirmed I do not want to live on a yacht! Instead, I’ll follow her adventures from the safety of my house where the exterminator is only a phone call way and stick to harbour cruises!
PS – There is also the small problem that I don’t sail!
PPS – Toots kindly gave permission for me to use her post in my blog.
A/N My interviewee this week is recognised as one of the Top 25 European Office 365 Influencers. Only two women made this list. She is also one of the 4 women recognised in the Global Top 25 Office 365 Influencers. As if that’s not enough, she’s also been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.
Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I was born as the first child of a very poor family, living in Eastern Hungary. I inherited my father’s skills at problem solving; he had been always good at school, but he didn’t have the chance for any higher education.
In school, being the smartest and poorest child in the class was a very bad combination. Since I didn’t have too many friends, I turned to what I was good at: learning. My math teacher recognized my math skills and managed to let me into the programming classes. I loved sitting next to the Commodore +4s! Controlling what they should do was one of the most powerful experiences I’d ever had at that time. There was never any doubt that I wanted to study programming after high school.
When I was accepted at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, I thought my life was on track – but a few months into my studies, I realized that university was too much of a burden. The costs of my studies and living in the capital were way too much for my family to afford.
I was at a huge decision point. Everything suggested I had to stop my studies and look for work. Nobody believed there was any way to avoid this and stay at the university, continuing my studies. But I didn’t give up. I was sure there must be some way.
I made the decision: I would look for a job AND continue my studies. Due to the programming awards I had received during my high school years, I found a programming job at one of Hungary’s biggest and most well known IT companies.
Five months after starting university, I found myself working there. I was saved! Those years were the hardest period of my life, though. I studied hard. I worked hard. I slept for only a few hours every day. My parents got divorced. But I was free.
For the first time in my life, I was doing what I loved, and I could do this because I made it possible for myself. In the end, I finished studying and got my degree after seven years. And I already had 6.5 years work experience which proved to be a HUGE benefit.
What makes someone good in your chosen field?
First of all, you have to be passionate about your job and you have to be persistent. Also, you have to love learning new things every day.
Last but not least, you have to be a team player. Even if you work from home like I do, IT projects are always complex, there’s always a whole team of professionals involved.
What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
What I do is quite complex. I help enterprise organizations with their Information Architecture (how to organize and classify their content, how to “clean up” and optimize their processes, etc.) as well as with Enterprise Search (how to make the content findable and discoverable, how to help users reduce the time spent with searching – especially with non-productive searching).
It sounds like it’s an IT role, but it’s much more about understanding people’s content, intent and behaviour. It’s much more about psychology. Maybe this is why I not only like working on people’s Information Architecture and Search solutions, but also mentoring them with their own life and career path. It’s amazing how similar these two things (consulting and mentoring) can be!
What can be challenging about your profession?
First, in IT, we have to solve complex problems and we have to deal with new kinds of problems every day. If you don’t like that, you’re lost.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a programmer, an administrator, a project manager or a system architect – if you don’t like solving complex problems, you cannot be good at it.
Secondly, in what I do, it’s very challenging to be able to think like my customers. Even organizing our own stuff can be challenging, just think about your kitchen or children’s rooms. But being able to understand the content and knowledge of someone else quickly and to provide a structure that helps them – this is something that’s never easy. But this is why I love doing this!
Thirdly, you should never forget: IT is always about serving humans. Always. Even if you never see the end users and customers, working with those bits is always about making people’s life easier in some way.
What do you most like about your profession?
I really like solving the complex problems of my enterprise customers, I like it when I have to use my brain power. Because every customer and every project are different, I learn a lot from each engagement. What could be better than being paid for learning time? 😉
But beyond that, I like the human part of my job the most. I like travelling the world and seeing beautiful places. I like meeting people, making new connections, having friends literally around the globe. I like helping others with their journeys.
I especially love helping young women with their career paths: to find their real passion, their real mission. To motivate and inspire them – this is what I like the most.
What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
A few years ago, before my children were born, I was working for a company in a role I didn’t really like, for quite a low salary. I wanted to quit, but at that time I was too young and not brave (self-confident?) enough to discuss it with my managers.
I applied for a job, which I really wanted, at a consultant company. To my great delight, they invited me for an interview. I thought the interview went well, and felt good that evening. The very next morning, one of my managers invited me to his office. Each of my managers were there, and when they closed the door behind me, I realized it must be something serious. It turned out, that one of the guys who invited me to that interview the day before, was a good friend of one of my managers. And of course, he’d called him asking about me.
It was a really embarrassing situation and an annoying discussion that I had with my managers that morning. I felt lost. I even felt stupid. But in the end I got a promotion at my existing company and my salary was almost doubled! It was a happy ending, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be as stupid as I was then.
Be self-confident. Be brave. Trust yourself. Maybe you won’t get the promotion I got that time, but even if you leave, it’s much better to do so in a friendly manner. I needed a few more years to learn that, but was lucky to learn that lesson through experience.
What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most nerve-wracking moment was many years ago when I had to make a presentation to a hall full of around 100 people I didn’t know. I’ve always been comfortable presenting to small familiar groups where you get some interaction. But to stand on a stage and not even be able to see the audience out there, let alone gauge their reaction is quite something.
It’s something I volunteered to do because I knew it would be hard – something about facing your fears and all that!
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Never give up. Even if you feel it’s impossible – it’s not! There’s always a way to move forward! Be curious. Be passionate. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – See more here.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
It takes time to build skills and move up the career ladder – don’t be impatient. Don’t pull yourself down, but don’t be over-confident either.
I thought I knew it all at 25 and I look back now and see that all those people who told me how important experience is were absolutely right.
Most importantly – be yourself. Find a role that fits who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Be proud of who you are.
Agnes Molnar is a Consultant, Speaker, Mentor, Author and Modern Working Mother. She is based in Budapest, Hungary. You can learn more by visiting Search Explained
I’ve always espoused the value of Me Time and today I had a lovely midday break in amongst my busy schedule. I took time out to head to the cinema, unfortunately I couldn’t stretch to enough time for lunch too.
I went to see the movie 6 Ways to Santiago.It’s about 6 different people walking the Camino de Santiago and their experiences. Sitting in the darkened cinema with two of my fellow walking companions, we were transported back to our time on the Camino trail. The images were beautiful, so much so that we could almost smell the cow dung. As the pilgrims travelled their journey, I vividly recalled the aching muscles as I put one foot in front of each other.
Lucky for me, I didn’t suffer from blisters, but some of my fellow walkers did, however, we looked after each other and soothed our worries away together.
If you’re thinking of doing the Camino, I highly recommend this documentary. You can also read my blog entries about my experience here.
The Camino is a magical experience. I’m planning another walk in 2016. If you’re interested in joining a small organised group of women on the trip of a lifetime, I’d love you to hear from you.
The school year is drawing to a close, at least here in Europe, which means so too is my time here in Spain. I’m making the most of the last few weekends and have been to Granada, Cordoba and Seville this month. Distances are not as vast as at home in Australia, so even though I don’t have a car here, it’s fairly easy to get about from one area to the other. I’m using buses, BlaBla Cars and lovely students who kindly give me lifts if they are headed in the direction I want to go.
Although it’s only a month since my very first visit to Granada, there’s a magic about the place that drew me back once again. My first stop was the cake shop where I indulged myself in not one, but two of the most delicious Arab sweets. It was then down to the serious business of leisurely exploring the Albayzin area, the old Arab quarter. Although I’d visited there before, I didn’t really have enough time for a proper exploration on my first visit.
It’s a very ancient area of the city, also UNESCO world heritage listed, built into the hill on the opposite side of the river to the Alhambra. A series of narrow, steep and winding alleyways offer surprise views and scenes tucked around each bend, including glimpses of the Alhambra in all its glory. There are some areas where cars can squeeze (and it’s definitely a squeeze) along, but for the most part it’s all very, very narrow and you can imagine donkeys being more suited for trekking up and down. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to lug my groceries home from the supermarket, although the idea of a small flat in this area has masses of appeal! I also reckon walking up and down the steep slopes would soon cancel out the sugar ladened cakes I’d be consuming each day if I lived here. Flat shoes are a must and it was with great amusement that I watched a few fashionable young tourists teeter around on their platform shoes.
There is a little bus that you can take up and down, and it’s very cheap (E1.20). We took the bus last time as we were pressed for time. This time my explorations were all on foot, both up and down, round and through the various nooks and crannies, including a visit to the mosque whose gardens are open to the public. The view from here of the Alhambra is pretty spectacular but without the crowds at the Mirador S. Nicholas which is right next door. I also took the big camera this time, so have better shots, but these here are straight from my phone.
By the time I got back to my hotel at around 11pm, my poor little footsies were pretty tired. It was a most welcome relief to slip off my shoes, wiggle my toes and settle back with a glass of bubbly in hand before dragging myself into the shower. The hotel was a converted 16 Century mini palace located right on the Darro. My room, which I’d booked at the last moment, was in what was obviously a converted attic space. I slept like a log!
Sunday morning saw Wayne and myself enjoy a leisurely breakfast before doing some serious haggling for leather bags. Our purchases left us thirsty – shopping is hard work – so we headed into yet another colourful square, for refreshments and watched the local townsfolk go about their regular Sunday business. In the afternoon we headed back to Ecija which is a total contrast to Granada and certainly a whole lot cheaper in terms of eating out. I guess I’ve been spoilt spending all these months in a little local place where I’ve got used to paying local prices. I reckon I’m going to be in for a rude shock when I am back in Australia again. However, I’m really looking forward to a bowl of laksa!
The sun has gone on holiday. I’ve had to drag out the heater again, pile on jumpers and walk home in the rain – luckily I have a trusty brolly in my bag.
Despite the gloomy weather this as been a brilliant day which stared with a lovely email from very dear friend (Susan) sharing all her news, lots of nice comments, including one from a very old friend (Geoff) on my blog from yesterday.
A couple of hours later I received an extremely excited text message from a student with the news she’d passed her English exam (heaps of smiley faces told me she was pleased). The positivity continued with fun and laughter in subsequent classes and concluded with a really amiable conversation group this evening. Nothing earth shattering BUT I enjoyed every moment.
Happiness can be found in the simplest of things and by taking pleasure in the joys others experience. Make someone happy today by showing how much you value them as an individual. Pick up the phone, send a note, a text or whatever you fancy. Go on……reach out and bring a moment of happiness to both your lives.
When I was a child a year seemed like an awfully long time. It was an unbearable wait till Christmas rolled around each year. At boarding school the terms seemed to drag on interminably whilst I counted down the days until school holidays. I think that’s pretty normal for kids, approaching life with gusto, keen to move on to whatever comes next.
I remember wishing that I was 16, then I wanted to be 18 and before I knew it I was celebrating my 21st birthday. After that the years fled by at the speed of light. The older I get the faster they whizz past.
As I’ve grown older I’ve become much more aware of how important it is to cherish the precious moments in life. It’s not about the places. It’s about the moment we are in. We don’t have a rewind button so we absolutely have to enjoy experiences the first time round. I think many of us struggle with remembering to live in the moment, after all how often do you find yourself walking or driving along thinking about what you will cook for dinner tonight, or about a meeting you have to attend, a place you want to go next or something else in either the past or the future?
When we do these kinds of things (and hey, I’m as guilty as the next of this), what we are actually doing is robbing ourselves of time to enjoy and appreciate what surrounds us at that very moment and place in time.
I know that when I am consciously in that exact moment, I notice so much more. My powers of observation are much sharper and this is a good thing. I am focussing on what is right there in front of me. It might be the beauty of some little detail on a building I pass, a wonder of nature, or a subtle unspoken key that a family member, friend or colleague is transmitting.
If we are too busy looking forward to a future point in time, we are cheating ourselves of experiencing life to the fullest. Some of the happiest people I know are not those who have everything but rather those who truly appreciate and take the time to live in the present moment.
It’s not so easy to do but I highly recommend trying to slow down, to appreciate the here and now rather than dwelling in the past thinking about what we could have or should have done. It’s past and can’t be undone. Don’t dwell too much on the future either because nothing is certain. Instead, enjoy today – as the old cliche says ‘that’s why it’s called the present’.
PS I’ve often spoken about the importance of living in the moment but I’ve never put it down in a blog but I was inspired recently by Marie Griffith with More painful th..to write it all down.
Today is my fourth day back in Spain; I arrived Wednesday night and have been lucky not to have suffered from jet lag despite the very long trip. It was straight back to work Thursday morning so it’s nice to have this weekend to chill out. I spent yesterday checking out the rebajas – yep, I learnt a new word in Spanish – it means discounts but is the equivalent of our sales since that’s what’s plastered all over shop windows. I also visited the supermarket plus fruit and veg stalls.
My fridge is stocked with loads of eggplant, red and green peppers, gorgeous tomatoes, beautiful mushrooms and crunchy green beans. That said, it’s so flipping cold, I don’t really need a fridge at the moment. When I step into the kitchen each morning to make my morning coffee I could swear it must be about 2 degrees!
However, once you go outside it is gorgeous winter sunshine, so it’s very pleasant walking through the streets, as I did yesterday, to get to the post office and send off a letter to Mum who is not on Facebook or any other means of electronic communications. The walk to the post office offers some lovely vista’s including the beautiful façade of the Palacio de Penaflor, which I believe, is quite something inside, but at the moment is not open to the public (I’m not sure if it ever was) and there seems to be some debate as to what to do with it. I’m really keen to get a look inside this intriguing building.
On the way back from the post office I meandered past the very picturesque, Iglesia San Juan, a place I’ve visited prior but definitely worth a second visit. However, it was closed so I had to content myself with just soaking up the exterior atmosphere.
There’s very little in terms of literature in English which explains what all the fascinating buildings in Ecija are so I’m making it my mission to find out a little bit more about the ones that intrigue me the most. It’s most definitely not a touristy town although we do see the odd day tripper, and whilst it’s nowhere near as spectacular as Cordoba or Seville, the place does have a certain unique charm. I would sum it up as being natural, no touristy shops of tacky souvenirs on every corner and people go about living their daily lives without pandering to tourists which in turn translates into cheaper prices in restaurants and, of course, less English speakers.
Monday was a public holiday here in Spain and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Cordoba which lies in the heart of Andalusia on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. Occupied by the Carthagians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors as well as Christians the city is steeped in fascinating history. Over the years I have read many historical novels set in this city and period so I was keen to see if it would live up to my expectations.
My day started with exploring the area that lies within what was once the walled city. I meandered the warren of medieval streets which are a living testament to the colour (and somewhat bloody) historic past of this fascinating city. Delightful whitewashed buildings with large wooden doors that open to reveal wonderful private patios which are a sourced of great pride to their owners. Apparently they have an annual event each May when patios are opened for public viewing and much coveted prizes are awarded for the best patios.
I then headed to the Alcazar which started its life as an 8th century residence for the Caliph (built on top of a former Visigoth fortress). In the 14th century Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the area, took over the Alcazar and used it as a residence as well as headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition. The Alcazar is today known as the Palace of the Christian Kings and is open to the public. I paid my E7 and scampered excitedly inside to explore.
I decided to climb to the top of the tower first (for someone who does not like heights I am doing an awful lot of tower climbing these days!) and was rewarded with fantastic views of Cordoba and the surrounding countryside. Standing there, gazing out over the parapets, it was easy to imagine how it must have been in days gone by when sentries stood watch for approaching messengers.
Stepping into the gardens of the Alcazar I was greeted by the soothing sound of running water and the fragrance of orange trees which perfumed the air. Very relaxing and restful and I could just imagine a troubled monarch walking down the broad avenues as they sought to escape the pressures of office. I glanced down at my watch and in surprise noticed it was already 2pm! My imagination had to come to a halt and bring itself back to the present as I needed to meet my friends for lunch. I reluctantly dragged myself out of the Alcazar.
After lunch we explored more of the old streets and exterior of the Mezquita but there wasn’t enough time to go inside so I know there definitely needs to be several more days allocated to discovering Cordoba.
As a child I lived all over the world and called several different counties home. My father worked for the United Nations and this somewhat nomadic lifestyle was the life I was born into, so of course, I did not realise that our lifestyle was so different. As I grew older and stared work in London I would work few months to save enough money and head off somewhere on my travels.
One of my trips took me to Australia and I met my husband. Family life and commitments meant my wanderlust had to be curbed. Four years ago I found myself single again with my children almost all grown up – Sasha was about to finish school and head to university – the a little voice that lurked deep in the back of my head started saying that now was the time I could start thinking about make my dream of travelling and living abroad come true.
The only problem was that I would need money to live overseas for any length of time or I would need some kind of income stream. This presented a dilemma as it reduced where I could go with my current skills to just English speaking countries. I pondered how I could possible work in countries where my knowledge of the local language was not exactly top quality or in many cases non-existent.
After some research and analysis I decided that I could use a skill that I already possessed and knew was in high demand – English.
I was always good at this subject at school and for many years have been editing and writing for others so why not develop my English further by learning to teach?
My Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) studies had to happen in conjunction with working full time and this meant when the schedule was really full my studies when on hold for bit.
Luckily I found English classes a very refreshing break from my day-to-day work because the students were all so keen and eager to learn. They looked to their future with the view that learning English was a way to secure their future life.
My TESOL studies open up a whole new world. I was forced to exercise my brain in a totally different way and exposed to so many new concepts around the acquisition of a second language.
Through my training I met an amazing array of individuals, all with incredible stories to tell, of their journey to settle in Australia. I also met teachers with interesting stories of where they had been and the things they had experienced.
One of the positives of being a TESOL teacher is that none of the students know my history. I am just their English teacher. They know nothing about my awards, my breast cancer journey or my business successes and therefore there are no expectations other than for me to help them learn English.
It is really nice to be able to live in anonymity without people expecting me to live up to a reputation.
The other reason for this change is I’ve always told my clients they can achieve whatever they set their minds to and sometime I think they are sceptical. But I am walking the walk as well as having talked the talk.
I am demonstrating that, despite the fact I am no longer a spring chicken, I am perfectly capable of moving across the world and finding a job in a country that does not use English as its main language.
I was successful in achieving my goal because I took a very strategic approach. I had a plan.
Today I’m paid a good wage in a country where unemployment figures are 24.5%, have a very comfortable apartment and am enjoying this new way of life whilst also, thanks to the business hours I keep, am able to keep a little toe in the business world by continuing to mentor, provide strategic advice and write.
I’m also sticking to my philosophy of choosing to only work with people who I have a mutual respect for.
I’m working at an English Academy where the policy is to keep the fees as low as possible as the boss believes that education should be available to everyone and she offers many additional extra’s that other places would charge for and this is really valuable to those who have no jobs and so little money.
How long will I stay? Who know! Let’s see which way the wind blows.
Anna. My courageous, compassionate, humorous and all round simply amazing friend is with us no more.
I received this news on Friday afternoon here in Ecija. The message pinged onto my phone as I was waiting for my class of students to arrive so I really didn’t have the opportunity to properly absorb the news. I was shocked and the next 4 hours of my classes passed in a kind of blur.
Anna had been on my mind a lot lately and it was only last week that I emailed saying I hoped she was well and not laid up in the hospital with some ailment or other.
You see Anna has had all kinds of issues with her health but she never let them stop her doing what she wanted – at least not until more recently.
Anna used to tell me her ailments were a result of a ‘life well lived’ – she had a great sense of adventure and was game for almost anything. Anna was resilient and always bounced back from whatever ailed her.
Anna was a do-er and could get almost anything done.
She had the great knack of being able to charm people and gently persuade them to do things they perhaps had not exactly planned to do. A case in point being that very first Field of Women that was planted in Canberra back in 1998 and then the establishment of Dragons Abreast ACT a year later.
Anna and I shared many memorable moments and experiences together over the years. We laughed and we cried together many times over the last 16 years – mostly we laughed.
Some of my standout memories are:
the trip to Niagra on the Lake where we stayed in a little B &B, sat out in the garden with a picnic and squirrels scampering around us as we dreamt of bringing the story of Dragons Abreast into print,
Anna tearing her hair out in Caloundra as she (wo)manned the phones and coordinated buses for 2000 pink paddlers.
My most recent memory was a visit to Canberra when I was there for the Lifeline Conference earlier this year.
I had very limited time so asked Anna if she would like to perhaps meet for breakfast at my hotel. In response, I received an email saying she’d love breakfast but was in the hospital so could I go there instead.
So at 7 am on a cold, wet Canberra morning, when it was really a bit too early for visitors, Anna and I sat in the hospital corridor and exchanged news for an hour and a half before I had to dash away for the start of the conference. That was the last time I would see my dear friend.
Anna was one of a kind
She always had a twinkle in her eye, was big of heart, wonderful with words, a diplomat and an inspiration to all who knew her.
Anna never complained instead she just rolled up her sleeves, stuck her tongue out to one side if she was concentrating, grabbed her walking stick and off she went!
I am so privileged to have been able to call her my friend. I am a better person for having known Anna – she was one of very special lady and there are no words that can adequately describe this amazing woman who was a wife, a mother, an advocate for causes she believed in, a gentle guiding hand, a wise counsellor, and an inspiration to many and an all-round incredible, irreplaceable, fantastic person who enjoyed a glass of red wine.
Anna, rest in peace now.
Thank you for friendship, inspiration and support – you’ll live in my heart forever.