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Stepping up to success with some Jewish geography

What could be better than sitting down with a cup of coffee and a friend to sort out your working life?

    Alice Olins (right) and Phanella Mayall Fine
    Alice Olins (right) and Phanella Mayall Fine

    What could be better than sitting down with a cup of coffee and a friend to sort out your working life?

    Well, try reading Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day. It's like a comfy chat with friends, but I suspect the authors are better qualified to give advice than most of my mates.

    Alice Olins is a fashion journalist and Phanella Mayall Fine is an executive coach and development consultant with a Masters in Organisational Behaviour. Their book combines hand-holding reassurance with practical tips and short CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) workouts, to help you to identify and maximise your skills and experience.

    I am sold. But the prospect of meeting the authors, both in their mid 30s with four jobs and five children between them, is a little daunting. I'm prepared for two superwomen with all the answers.

    But once we meet, I relax. Olins and Fine put me at my ease. I settle on the sofa and we begin our Jewish geography.

    Our careers are like the Swiss Alps with lots of ups and downs

    "It's complicated," Olins says. "My Mum is Australian, she isn't Jewish, but I have always felt very connected to my Judaism through my paternal line. I was converted at the age of seven and was brought up in North West London in a traditional household. We have big, family Friday night dinners and get together on the festivals. My friendship groups were always Jewish and we would hang out in Hampstead as teenagers. At university I was very involved with Jewish student life. My husband is not Jewish but he is keen for us to join a shul."

    Fine's background is a little different. "My mother is Jewish but my father isn't. My parents met in New York but they divorced when I was seven and I moved to the UK with my mum and we lived in Chelsea. We spent most of our time with my Jewish grandparents, we were secular but I felt very secure in my Judaism which helped when I went to Marlborough boarding school - I think we were only two Jews in the whole place. I met my husband when I was at law school, he comes from an observant background and I am comfortable with that.

    "Alice and I share similar Jewish values and that's what helps us work so well together."

    Olins chips in: "We look for flexibility in our working lives to fit in with family life. Certainly our Jewish background has helped us with networking and we both have strong Jewish role models in our lives, matriarchs and powerful women, which has driven our passion for gender equality which inspired this book that is especially for women."

    They are using their network of Jewish friends to promote the book. "We write in the book that networking is really just chatting with purpose," says Fine. "Alice and I chatted at lots of parties, we realised that there was a gap in the market and that's how we devised the book."

    Being on the wrong side of 50 myself, with a patchwork-quilt career history, I am pleased when Fine reassures me that I have plenty of time left for "job crafting."

    "Your career is really long. When you are young, you have this sense of urgency that you have to do it all 'now'. But as women we have the advantage of being able to take breaks, to reassess and change direction. Most women do not have a linear career path, our careers resemble the Swiss Alps with lots of ups and downs. And that's OK. It's key that we do not compare ourselves with others, but define what success means to us."

    Step-Up suggests visualisations to help with this such as making a presentation to a group of teenage girls on the definition of success or looking back at yourself at the age of 80 and asking whether you have fulfilled your own dreams.

    What about our clothes? Many of us stay safe with boring black and grey. Olins wants us to "notch it up a bit. Dress for the job that you want. Wear the clothes that reflect the vibe that you want to give off. Pick pieces that make you feel good." Tips include looking at your female role models and how they dress, and wearing retro red lipstick to add zing to an outfit.

    It's all good advice, and the book is just like having Olins and Fine at home with you, cheering you on.

    It's clear they know what it's like to juggle home and work. The stress-busting tips in the book are there because they need them themselves.

    "I have never felt more worn out or stressed in my life as right now," says Olins. "It's not all perfect and you can't do it all. Most people are paddling under the surface."

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