I’ve tried to put together old Instagram posts to illustrate at each stage what was going on… I want to document this for my girls and myself as much as anything.

Bella and Annie, sorry if you have felt that mummy works a lot, it’s all been for you!

Almost 10 years ago, sitting in the living room with my fiancé he told me that I should apply for the Tesco graduate programme ‘just incase’ there would be no communication or marketing jobs when I graduated, a ‘safety blanket’ or plan B so to speak.

I didn’t want to go into retail, never mind retail management but with a wedding the following year and the dream of being homeowners (big dreams for 2 students sitting like royalty eating a Dominos as it was student loan day! Boom!) it made sense and I started the application there and then.

Fast forward a 10 month process, many interviews and over 3,000 applicants I found myself in a room, in London with 40 other graduates listening to how most would quit in the first year but all the opportunities that lay ahead for those that were driven and determined enough. The ultimate goal however, a ‘work level 3’ store manager with a senior salary, no two days the same, fast paced role, pension and health benefits… that could be achieved in 5 years.

There were 4 on the programme in Northern Ireland but 18 months later I was on my own. I was hooked though, met some of the most amazing people, I felt the passion and fire in my belly and after 20 months I had already successfully led a team as a line manager and got to deputy manager level. The more times I was told that most don’t make it through, or ‘are you mad!’ the more it encouraged me. I thrived when the store manager was off and I got to take the ‘A’ for the store. I had a different management style than many others, working with and getting to know my team and what matters to them… when we all understand each other, that’s when teams work best together in my opinion.

I made many sacrifices for the role, I stayed away for the most part of the first Christmas that Colin and I were married and had in our new home. I was living out of hotels as the long hours and 3 hour round trip just to climb into bed wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t always plain sailing though, there were set backs and failures that I cried about (as I was so passionate) though I learnt from them and moved on.

A year later I got asked to cover a store that had no store manager for a couple of weeks, the weeks turned to months and then I was told that I was ready to prepare for sign on (an interview that is by no means light hearted) but I was expecting Bella at this stage and decided I would try when I came back off maternity leave. I knew the pressure and stress on top of running a store and team at that stage would not be worth it.

I went into labour early and days after finishing work with Bella, a sign that I was doing far too much (only one person to blame!) After a fabulous year on maternity leave I headed back to work full time, 1 hour from home and within 3 months of returning and a trip to Manchester I was signed on as a store manager.

I had the most amazing feedback from the sign on with the only build being my nerves took over. What I couldn’t tell them was that I had vomit literally balancing in my throat. I was 9 weeks pregnant with Annie, engorged boobs as I was still feeding Bella, away from her for the first time and the lovely lady’s tuna sandwich at the side of the desk tested me for every inch of my being. Nerves didn’t get a look in!

I was determined more than ever though, I had a little girl to role model to and I was adamant that if I was working 36 hours per week I would do the best job I could in those hours and earn as much as I could. I was 100% in. Being seen many times as ‘too soft’ due to my management style meant that the results had to do the talking… I would rather communicate than dictate.

On the return of my maternity leave with Annie I went straight into my 12 week placement as a test to see if I could handle the store manger role and deliver the results in a larger store. I did request to be the first store manager in Northern Ireland to fulfil the role in 4 days, baring in mind the 36 hour week store managers were working about 60 hours. I had to make this work even though I would still have to deliver the full job (the buck stops with the store manager day or night) I had no choice with childcare etc and I needed to be present with the girls.

I had over 100 in my team and running a 1/2 million pound per week store. Those 12 weeks were spent leading the business change of removing a night shift operation. I spent my time on nights leading the meetings and trying to match the people effected into suitable jobs for both them and the business. This was no easy task, they were people I quickly cared for, they had families to provide for and were in a redundancy situation. I was also running the day operation of serving customers in the store too and Annie was going through a really hard patch crying day and night. I was running on empty but willing myself through for those effected and offering them all the meetings and time they needed. The biggest reward was having all 30 people I was working with through the change happy with their move and in line with the business needs. All of this was achieved alongside balancing a full set of balanced costs, lead through the engagement of my senior team and team managers, I couldn’t have asked for a more successful placement.

However family life was tough, I relied heavily on the support of Colin and my mum as some days I was going in at 4am for nightshift meetings followed by a day working in the store and some evenings I was not arriving home to 2am. I passed my store manager placement but felt I failed as a mummy, a wife and a daughter.

I made many sacrifices for the role, some that will always make me feel guilty even though in that moment of time with all the stretching and pulling in many different directions I felt like I was doing the right thing. One things for sure, I wouldn’t have been able to without a husband that is 100% equal at home (ok, some things mums just do better 😂🤷🏻‍♀️) and a Nana that loves the girls like they are her own.

I got signed off in November 2016 as a store manager and in January 2017 I got appointed as a store manager. 6 years after starting the programme, 2 maternity leaves, sleepless nights, countless hours, highs and lows and a hell of a lot of quick decisions and I finally achieved what I had been working for. I always shrug it off and say that it’s complete winging it, I’m going to own this one though and say it was 100% earned.

While working, juggling kids and family life I felt like I had nose dived into a place where I could have easily lost ‘Anna’ the one that loved fashion, being creative and having light hearted conversation. When leading a team of 150 the last year most of the time when people ‘need to speak to you’ or ‘have you got 1 minute’ (x by 60!) it’s not normally for a bit of light hearted banter.

Instagram and the blog was my escape, my downtime or therapy. I could have dismissed someone during the day, had to negotiate with an irrational customer as a melon had a black dot on it and arrived home to 2 tantruming girls that I got to spend witching hour with but then sat down and had a bit of banter/ shared the joy of a good dress or had a reassuring ‘me too!’ with a few (thousand) people… the nicest group of people that I (n)ever met.

Another business change this year that meant I was back into redundancy meetings and they had me coming home from work and feeling like there was never any cut off…. emails at night as the workload was ever growing and ‘just one minute’ being mimed to my children as my head was pinned to the phone. I hurried bedtime being too busy for stories as I had work to get ahead of for the next day. I always wanted to deliver the best job but best job at what and for who? Became my burning question.

The fire in my belly began to dim though the results remained high, I watched my mum worry about my dad who’s health hasn’t been the best and all whilst caring for my girls. Some working days started at 5am meaning leaving the house at 4:15am… ‘there’s bound to be more to life than this’ but then again with Colin working nightshift I couldn’t change the girls to going to childcare, they wouldn’t take the girls as early as my mum did.

I found myself then one day choosing a car based on what we could afford if I changed role and my pay wasn’t as guaranteed. It sparked me to think of what my drivers are (keeping on the car theme y’know) what I defined as success and what the biggest benefits were… ‘a good health package, bonus scheme or the chance to squeeze in school drop offs around your working day.’

I don’t have the choice not to work, if I did I’m not sure I would take it anyway. I need to work for me as much as I do to keep the bills being paid and a roof over our heads. There is no bread winner in our house we both need to contribute equally and rely on both our incomes.

For the last 18 months alongside Tesco I have been blogging and working on company advertising campaigns but more recently I have started working with businesses, separate from my own blog to help consult with them and advise them on how they can engage their audience and self promote via social media.

With my degree in Communication and Public Relations, managing a large retail supermarket and managing my own social media/ blog I understand the complexities with time, people management, budget and customer focus that can impact delivering high quality marketing content to connect potential customers with your business and vision.

Looking after the customers already in your business is always a priority but attracting new customers, staying ahead of the competition and being innovative is essential for the survival of any business. This is what has given me the fire in my belly, where my passion lies and where AC Connects established, helping to connect and manage communication between a business and their target audience.

So in my ‘lifestyle break’ this summer from retail management we moved house and worked with companies in Northern Ireland. It developed and give the chance to let new opportunities flourish. I have jumped back into full time work and working all hours of the night on many occasions.

However, I could no longer do both, something had to give and I have now left Retail management. It was an amazing opportunity, one that I feel helped to pave my path back into the PR and marketing world, I feel like I can understand and connect with businesses more than ever, I’ve lived those complexities and faced them first hand.

I have left on such a high having met and worked alongside the most amazing people, taking opportunities that I’ll always be proud of but now I am going to work alongside the school hours of thee most amazing people in my world and their bedtime hours too.

I once read, you can work 36 hours for someone else or 100 hours for yourself and be happy.

I’ve took the jump, the benefits and bonus schemes have changed and my goodness I couldn’t be more excited!

You’ve got one life, spend it doing something you love!

The lifestyle break has ended (a while ago) and I’m back into full time work but it’s ok, the boss is pretty dead on and is letting me spend Christmas Eve with my kids this year…. some things money just can’t buy!

Anna xx

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