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What do you want in life?

Margo Cole tries out a residential course offering an holistic approach to personal and career development

Do you sometimes find yourself wishing you had time to breathe?

Life in the construction industry can be so frenetic that you rarely get the chance to step back and take a good look at the way you are living. Free time is spent trying to catch up with family and friends, leaving little opportunity to take stock.

The Government and industry's work/life balance initiative, launched earlier this year, is aimed at encouraging employers to find ways to help workers achieve the right balance between the different aspects of their lives.

Consultant Warren Lownds has launched a programme designed to help you do this. The firm is best known in the industry for its work on the Heathrow Express 'single team', where its facilitators worked at every level - including in the tunnels - to help workers adapt to cultural changes and deal with problems.

'Room to breathe' is a twoday residential programme at a Georgian country house on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border. The property's 11 acres of meadows are surrounded by rolling farmland, with the Welsh Hills just visible on the horizon.

Guests are encouraged to make the most of the wide open spaces by working outdoors, taking walks and even playing badminton, doing yoga or T'ai Chi.

There are only six participants on the programme at any time.

This makes the atmosphere fairly intense, but in my group we quickly established a trust that enabled us to share important information about our lives, thanks in part to an exercise involving 'sighted' participants guiding those wearing blindfolds to retrieve objects from the garden.

We were all given a workbook outlining exercises for us to carry out on the first day, individually and as a group. Two facilitators helped us work through the exercises to establish what we were trying to achieve in our lives: what is really important to us; our visions for the future; our fundamental values and how to meet them. Many of the exercises involve working with someone else or as a group.

I found that strangers can sometimes be more challenging and ask the questions people close to you have learned to avoid, or don't really want answered. They can also offer very practical advice and support.

The exercises included 'creating visions' of our lives 10 years from now, assessing what skills we have developed over the years and looking at the underlying values that shape our career choices.

Another participant, a divisional director of a leading construction company involved in project management, said the course helped him decide where he would like to go.

'Many of us helter skelter through life from one crisis to another or from one job to another, ' he told me. 'It's the nature of the industry, and it's not often we have the chance to stop and think where we're going. This course gave me the opportunity to think about what I really want out of this, as opposed to what the client wants or what the company wants.'

It also seems like a good way of getting the most out of other people, he added. 'If we have a good idea of where they need to go with their careers, it will help us when we're placing staff in various assignments. In the end the client and the company should benefit because people would be doing the jobs best suited to them.

'I think there's a tendency to go through life having some vague idea about what we want, and trying to get promoted, but we tend just to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, so it's all pretty random. This course would be appropriate for anybody who's reaching a bit of a crossroads or has plateaued in their career and feels they are not making any progress.'

I went there with a lack of clarity about what I really wanted to be doing and learned a lot about myself, particularly that I do have enough time for all the things I want to do - I am just bad at managing it. It is good to be able to think about work/ career/home decisions in terms of whether or not they will satisfy a 'core value'.

Key points

A work/life balance course can help you stop and assess your priorities in life.

Strangers can be more incisive and challenging than people who know you well.

It could be that you do have all the time you need but are not managing it well.

Infoplus

'Room to breathe' is part of the 'Vanilla' programme, which also includes courses aimed at improving management and team development. For more information contact Warren Lownds on (020) 8560 9027.

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