THE COLLEAGUE

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People often talk about how important their friends are.

We so frequently recall fond memories of those we have known since university or school and we praise our families for being wonderful- and don’t get me wrong, these people are the people I turn to first. I do feel, however, that we need to give our work colleagues a little more credit for the crucial part that they play in our everyday lives.

Hear me out.

I get that your boyfriend/girlfriend/lover has to endure a run down of the last eight hours at the end of a long, hard day. I know that your girlfriends are the ones nursing your broken heart when things don’t quite work out as planned. Your mum and dad will no doubt be the ones to get you through a really rough patch, it was your grandparent’s job to spoil you rotten and your brother or sister are there to let you know that you’ve put on a bit of weight when no one else will. But the people you work with? They’re the ones who see you everyday, come rain or shine. On a good side of the bed day or on a bad side of the bed day. There’s no respite for those you share a desk with and they have to look at your face for at least six hours a day, whether they (or you) like it or not and this is why I feel it’s high time we celebrate these people we find ourselves spending most of our time with.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that a good work colleague is hard to come by. In fact, starting a new job is a bit like an arranged marriage: you just don’t know what you’re going to get, but what I can say, with some certainty, is that knowing that I can have snippets of great conversation and a laugh at some point between the hours of 9am and 5pm is what makes me stop hitting snooze on my alarm each day. Aside from loving what I do, of course.

More to the point though, post-education, where else do you get the chance to meet and make life-long friends anymore? As a twenty-something, you can’t just approach people in bars and ask them to hang out with you as a mate. Nor do apps intended for this purpose ever really work. Friendship groups are set in stone by 27 and work is the only place you get to meet anyone new. Yet another reason why work colleagues are the bomb.

This positive outlook on desk mates, however, isn’t always agreed upon. In fact, I’ve heard tales-a-plenty about torturous co-workers in the last few days and I recently listened to a podcast by The Pool where someone had written in to ask for advice on how to handle their god-awful neighbouring teammate who chewed really loudly at their desk and sighed a lot. First of all: really dude? personal space, please. Secondly, it made me realise how lucky I have been. Although I’ve had some awkward romantic encounters and have faced both healthy disagreements and a couple of disappointments throughout my working life, I have always managed to find people I click with within my team, company or school and it is those humans who I would like to celebrate today. The ones who put up with my incessant need to talk things through, the ones who help curb my habit of writing endless lists and those who spend hours after work chatting, just because.

So, colleagues of the world: although we might have to make small talk with one another on impromptu tube rides home, spend lunch times working next to each other instead of eating across from one another and we may get a little inappropriate at after work drinks, you are what makes the 9-5 bearable, so let’s be grateful for that.

Tomorrow, take the time to offer a colleague a cup of tea or fetch them a diet coke from the shop. If you have a bit of spare time, offer them a helping hand with something they’re working on, or just get blind drunk on prosecco after hours for no reason at all.

You never know, once you get to talking to people, you might go from being colleagues to life-long friends.

Lord knows, stranger things have happened.

THE JOB CENTRE – JESS MARK

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Age: 26

Occupation: Nutritionist

Which means: I’m currently working on a study at King’s College University, helping patients to reduce their risk of developing Cardiovascular Disease within the next 10 years. We are testing whether a psychological technique known as ‘Motivational Interviewing’ can help patients with lifestyle changes such as eating healthily and increasing exercise to reduce heart disease risk. I also write health and nutrition articles for TotallyTween – an online magazine for 8-12 year olds.

Did you go to uni? I studied Nutrition at the University of Nottingham and graduated in 2010.

What was your first job after graduating? I decided to go travelling, so my first job was working at Wimbledon. I had a few different jobs to save money to fund my 8 month long trip. When I got back from travelling, I decided to really pursue the nutrition route but it was so difficult to find a paid job! I did lots of volunteering at various charities, an internship at a Nutrition PR company and then decided to go freelance. My first proper nutritionist role was for Hillingdon council, working as a Nutrition Coach for teens, helping them to manage their weight and become more active. I was also running nutrition workshops for parents and children in primary schools across south London.

Do you have to have a degree to do your job, or is work experience more important? Having a nutrition degree and work experience were both really important in landing the job. For this project in particular, other health-related and psychology qualifications were also accepted as the role incorporates nutrition, exercise and psychology. However, other nutrition roles I have had ask for a degree as a requirement.

What’s the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietician? Currently, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist as the title isn’t protected in the same way as a Dietitian. There is however, The Association for Nutrition (AfN), a charity that holds a register of Nutritionists who work at senior levels across the NHS, academia, industry and food service. This is to enable public safety and ensure those who release information are adequately trained and knowledgeable enough to provide evidence-based information and follow strict code of conduct. In order to join the register, you have to demonstrate core competencies in nutrition and science. The AfN currently accredits a number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses – my course at Nottingham was one of them. Students completing an accredited degree programme have the right to apply to join the register. Joining the register post-graduation gives you the title Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and after 3 year’s worth of experience you can become a Registered Nutritionist (RNutr). This is useful because employers are increasingly looking for registered status in posts they advertise.

What’s does a typical day at the office look like for you? No day is ever the same, which I love! I spend most of my time at GP surgeries or community venues working with my patients. If I’m in the office, I attend meetings, catch up on emails, book my patients in for the week and organise rooms at GP surgeries and venues. I also have to plan my sessions and write up patient outcomes from sessions. Working on a study means that there is quite a lot of data to be collected and recorded. When I’m out of the office, I’m either working one to one with patients or delivering group sessions.

What’s the dress code? Smart/casual. As I spend a lot of time travelling to different locations, my main priority is comfort but I try to look as professional as possible. I do have to carry lots of resources to sessions, so it’s not unusual to see me running around in my trainers with a change of shoes in my backpack!

Where do you see yourself in two to three years time? What are your achievable goals? I would like to get back doing freelance work. I really enjoyed creating my own projects, especially for children. I think it’s so important for children and parents to be properly educated about food, so I want to continue health promotion in this area. I would also quite like to do some more studying and work abroad.

If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would it be? I really can’t see myself not working in this field. I love food, so it would probably be something food related – maybe own a restaurant or set up a food delivery service?

The world has gone mad for ‘Super Foods’ and ‘Clean Eating’ – is it all  just another moneymaking scheme? I definitely see it as a massive marketing ploy. There’s always a particular food that we ‘must be eating’ that will ‘solve all our health problems’. The term ‘Superfood’, however, has no official definition and the EU have banned health claims on packaging unless it can be supported by scientific evidence because it gives us a false expectation of the benefits. ‘Clean eating’ also has no definition or scientific support. The reality is, if you eat a ‘Superfood’ thinking that it will undo the damage of consuming other unhealthy, processed foods, it won’t! Superfoods cannot compensate for unhealthy eating; no food on its own can work miracles. The Superfood trend exploits the fact that healthy lifestyle choices can reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, strokes and cancer. There’s a massive wellness trend at the moment with a lot of influence from social media- Instagram in particular. You see lots of incorrect advice being handed out which can be very dangerous as it promotes confusion and misinformation. I know it’s boring and everyone has heard it before, but a healthy and balanced diet really is key. Limiting yourself to consuming only a certain superfood or ‘eating clean’ and restricting other important nutrients can be detrimental too. Balance and moderation are what’s important. We need to eat what’s right according to our individual needs.

And finally, what one piece of practical career advice would you give to your younger self?

STOP WORRYING!  I would tell myself that there’s no point worrying if the problem can be solved, and if it can’t be solved there is still no point in worrying! It’s not going to help the situation, so just let it be. If you’ve tried hard enough and really given something your best shot, you’ve got to trust that things will take care of themselves and work out in the end.

*

My beautiful best friend, confidante and foodie. We like to eat. And party.

Questions for Jess? Just ask.

HOW LUNCH DICTATED MY CAREER – A GUEST POST

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I don’t know about you, but Big Important Life Decisions completely paralyse my brain’s ability to function.

Offer me a double chocolate muffin or an apple and obviously, I’m not mad, I’ll opt for the muffin. I’ll probably take two, one for the road.

Ask me which I’d prefer to watch out of Legally Blonde and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde and yes – I’m only human  – I might pause for a second. But then I’ll see sense and plump for the original. Way more bend and snap.

But ask me what I want to DO with my life and I’ll be pretty stumped. And that’s because the opportunities are endless…which is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Feeling me so far?

When you’re REALLY young the hardest decisions are the likes of:

“Do I eat my chips before my stupid peas or do I leave my chips ’til last and risk getting full?”

[to be fair that’s a question that’s still highly relevant well into my adult years]

Or even the delicate and highly political:

“Who’s going to be my best friend at school today? Sophie…so she’ll invite me to her bouncy castle birthday party? Or Olivia…because then she’ll let me plait her hair at break?”

Even as you grow up through your teens the options are laid out for you:

French or German.

History or Geography.

Backstreet Boys or Boyzone.

Gap year or straight to uni.

It’s not ’til uni is ending that you are suddenly hit with the enormity of your career choices. Yes, it’s slightly different if you studied medicine – your path is fairly set, Dr McSmug. But for many of us, leaving uni meant – for perhaps the first time – we didn’t have anyone offering us A or B on a little plate. It was A-Z and maybe some cheeky hieroglyphics thrown in too. Just to add to the chaos.

When I was a little nipper the only jobs I knew about were the ones I’d seen in picture books: nurse, train driver, teacher and farmer. I literally thought the world was operated by those four jobs alone.

Then dawns the realisation that not only are there countless more industries than you ever envisaged…but within those industries are a complicated hierarchy of positions.

I remember feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed – aged 21 – as my life lay before me and I found myself, much to my disappointment and surprise, not married to Prince William (plan A) or Prince Harry (plan B).

It seemed as though I was going to have to choose a career. I just didn’t have the foggiest clue what that career was going to be.

In the end, my first job out of uni was working in the advertising industry.

Want to know why? The truth?!

It’s because I made the mistake of going to a careers fair completely knackered and hungry.

And it was alphabetically laid out, clockwise. I only managed as far as ‘A’.

I’m happy that one of my KPIs isn’t chaperoning zoo animals. Although I did end up being an accidental sex pest at my advertising job.

*NOW A SLIGHT TANGENT*

On the subject of zoos…I’m not sure how long I would have lasted as a zookeeper. I’m on the crazy end of the squeamish scale. The first time I went to visit my sister in Zimbabwe we went to a crocodile park and I’m DEATHLY afraid of crocs.

I asked – nervously – how many of the beasts they had. The tour guide responded with gusto:

“There are thirty…

Cripes. But I think I can cope with 30. Just.

“-thousand crocodiles in this park.”

Kill me now.

His next line keeps me awake at night to this date, although I think it was intended to soothe us:

“Don’t worry, they rarely escape.”

RARELY ISN’T NEVER.

Cue me, bursting into tears.

*TANGENT OVER*

When it comes to those Big Important Life Decisions, it comforts me slightly that I have permission from the one-and-only Moulin Rouge creator himself, Baz Luhrmann, to not know what I want to do with my life. I mean the man has won 23 film awards (I counted on Wikipedia) so he must know a thing or two about ambition.

From Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)’:

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life

The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives

Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t

I’m 31. I still have 9 years to meet Baz Luhrmann and still be considered ‘interestingly adrift’. I can live with that.

Written by the author of Disasters of A Thirty Something.

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A hilarious blogger (and now Agony Aunt to me) who documents all of the stories from her life that you or I would probably rather forget, all for our entertainment.

Visit her site or follow her on Twitter here.