Sometimes its a surprisingly small world, out here in blogland. A while back a friend of my family got in touch because she’d found my blog and had one of her own. Our parents have been friends almost all their adult lives, although I hadn’t actually seen Sarah for about thirty years! Then it turned out she was writing a book and I was fortunate enough to get a pre-publication look at it. As anyone who visits this site knows, I’m particularly interested in all aspects of our well-being and self-development and Sarah’s book, entitled Keeping Your Spirits Up offers a fine practical guide to negotiating the roadwork zones of working life. To celebrate its publication, I invited Sarah to answer a few questions about her work, the book and the experience of e-publication.
1. For the benefit of my readers, could you tell us a bit about your profession?
I’m an occupational psychologist and coach. What this means in a very broad sense is that I am interested in almost anything to do with people and their experience of work. More specifically, I have gradually specialised over the years to deal with well-being at work, and – through the coaching work – in supporting people on an individual basis to make good decisions for themselves and their organisations, especially during times of change and uncertainty.
Most of us spend a great deal of our adult lives either at work, trying to find work, trying to escape work, wondering whether we are in the right job or talking and thinking about work. This may include paid or unpaid work. For this reason, I am particularly interested in our relationship with work: how we do it; what makes us productive (or not); how we recover from it; how we succeed in it; how we balance it with other aspects of our lives. Work can have a big impact on our mental health, for good and ill.
2. What led you into that kind of work?
I did a degree in psychology when I left school but then went into accountancy, alongside so many graduates back in the eighties. I qualified but knew that I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole and eventually decided to go back to university to do a masters in occupational psychology.
My experience in the audit world wasn’t wasted though. The business understanding, as well as having met so many people in so many different organisations and jobs, was invaluable in fuelling my interest in what makes people and organisations tick. It’s certainly not always money – although finances do play a role of course in all our lives.
3. We all get stuck in ruts from time to time – what kind of circumstances are the best ones for consulting a coach? When can it really make a difference?
Firstly, it has to be when you are ready and when you want to address the issues you face. Being encouraged to go along by someone else, however well-meaning, will probably backfire as you may not really want to work on what might be troubling you. I find a sign that you might find it helpful to talk to a third party is when you realise you are repeatedly having the same, often circular, conversation with family and friends (and possibly round and round your head internally too). They’ve suggested every solution they can think of, you’ve wracked your brains – and you feel totally stuck in an uncomfortable situation, seemingly with no way forward or back.
Most of the clients I see are in mid-career, of middle-ish age (a wide and sweeping definition!), usually with some professional success behind them, but may be facing a great deal of change and uncertainty at work (and maybe elsewhere) and are wondering how to deal with it and whether to change direction. Or they may be forced to change direction by circumstances. And if so, how do you decide what direction is the right one? They can often feel a bit like rabbits (very hard working ones) in the headlights, frozen in the face of so much going on and overwhelmed by things to do on all fronts.
4.What made you decide to write a book?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, and have done a few creative writing courses with the Open University. I also wrote a very rough first draft of a novel through the “nanowrimo” scheme (write a novel in a month, which runs every November) – great fun and it got me past that self-conscious stage of weighing up what I was writing rather than just getting on with it. I had also started writing short articles (“Food for Thought”) to support my coaching programme, Creating Focus. These were intended to give people some pointers towards books or theories I thought might be helpful to them whilst they were doing the coaching programme.
Over time, I realised that writing a novel was going to be a very long shot to bring to fruition, given the amount of time I could realistically devote to it, with a business to run and teenage children to care for. So – I had something of a flash of inspiration whilst having a coffee in the sun in my favourite spot in Nottingham (outside Nottingham Playhouse), in an escape from the builders who were in residence in our house at that stage. I put together a plan for a book that would build on those articles and enable me to write some illustrations and case studies that would satisfy my more creative side. That was nearly two years ago, and I’ve spent the intervening time – well – getting on with it.
5. And what prompted you to publish direct to ebook rather than find a traditional publisher?
I hit a real low spot with the whole project around Christmas time. I’d written a full draft, but was struggling to work out who to approach re publishing, or how to do that. I have no track record, no affiliation to big university or company, no friends in publishing. I was chatting to a friend who writes fiction, and she suggested Kindle. I don’t own one, I knew nothing much about them. But she told me that a friend of hers had published his short stories that way, for free.
As the other aspect for me was that I had a budget of more or less nothing, this appealed, and I decided I had nothing to lose and at least it would mean I got the book finished rather than left as a well-intentioned pile of paper under my desk.
As I got closer to finishing I then discovered the whole world of print on demand which was a real revelation. Again, this means that self publishing on a virtually non-existent budget becomes possible.
6. Would you like to describe your book in a few words?
It’s a practical reminder, based on evidence, of what we can all do to boost our resilience, morale and energy. I hope it reflects the reality of busy lives rather than preaching an idealistic lifestyle in perfect balance, which is simply not realistic for most of us (and would probably be pretty boring if it was).
7. What did you learn during the writing process that really surprised you?
Firstly, writing it has made me pay attention to my own balance of activities and ways of thinking to help me keep my own spirits up. For example, yesterday I signed up to do a local half marathon. Nordic walking I must hastily add, which is far less daunting than running (apart from looking a bit strange which leads to all the “you forgot your skis” comments, but there will be a few of us to promote some solidarity). In the chapter on exercise, I look mainly at all the barriers we experience and ways of overcoming those. Signing up to an event is one such strategy and I suddenly realised I was taking my own advice; which can be a rare experience.
Secondly, sticking with it through to completion (and even managing to meet my own deadline) was a really satisfying experience. I found I enjoyed writing more as I went on not less which is what I had expected. And a tangible, finished book is very pleasing to the part of me that wants to tick things off a list as “done”.
8. How did you find the self-publishing process – what advice would you give to others considering that option?
I’ve written a bit about this on my blog but the main things would be to invest in design (I was very fortunate in working with Kate Ferrucci of http://www.quartodesign.com with the Kindle design being something of a showcase project for her – maybe you can explore whether design students can help if the budget is an issue, although this is the most important bit that’s worth paying for I think); get feedback on the writing, not just from family and friends (possibly not at all from family and friends, they are often not objective enough); get enough support and cheerleading (I (rather sparingly) used a mentor for some of the initial draft writing – Eileen Parr of http://words-for-you.co.uk ) to keep you going.
9. What plans do you have for promoting it?
This is another big learning curve, and I am only at the beginning I suspect. I have sent review copies to a whole variety of magazines and potentially interested people; I have been asked to do a book launch event locally; my local paper are going to cover it; and I am very happy to write articles for blogs or magazines where possible. I’m also exploring working with a local university as to whether the marketing can form the basis for a student project. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please do get in touch!
10. Are you tempted at all to write another?
Yes, if anything this has led to me enjoying writing more than ever. I am planning to write something about women coming into their own in middle age and beyond – so if you want to stay in the loop on that one, feel free to sign up to my (fortnightly) newsletter or follow me on twitter or facebook or whatever new-fangled means come into our disposal as the years go on
Sarah Dale CPsychol MSCP
<http://www.creatingfocus.org/?page_id=847> Keeping Your Spirits Up