Learning from life: What I learnt from walking and discussing

Shot of a team of colleagues using a digital tablet and laptop together during a meeting at an outdoor cafe.

This month Michelle Parry-Slater reflects on how our attitudes to each other have become more informal since Covid and she urges us to reach out to colleagues to give and receive valuable support from fellow professionals

From where do you get your inspiration? Or perhaps more telling, who do you get it from? For me in a work context inspiration is usually from working with other people. That is a paradoxical curiosity given that I work for myself. I don’t have colleagues unless I invite them in, but I do try to share my work wherever possible because of the joy I get from working with others. I seek out projects where I can work with others for the energy and learning it generates.

I genuinely find it exciting when I’m around other professionals

There is something special in collaboration, in chewing over ideas in the company of others. The peer-to-peer support that comes with that often reinforces our ideas or gives new thinking – both of which are hugely necessary. I genuinely find it exciting when I’m around other professionals. This has been true for me throughout my working life.

Good and bad influences

I’ve had a variety of key influencers in my career, from whom I have learnt so much. From the terribly, unprofessional boss who loudly outed my pregnancy, without permission across the table at the Christmas Party, to the most generously kind director who encouraged me to believe in my future more than I did. As I progress in my career it matters a great deal to me how I present myself to others and how I encourage others in the profession. I’m keen to offer the legacy my director offered me, rather that of my terrible boss. This support manifests in a few ways: I’ve had several mentees; I offer work experience, and I always advocate for younger voices, supporting their job applications, speaking ambitions or generally being a sounding board for them.

Yet, I know I still need this kind of support too. I need the guiding hand of a more experienced practitioner. The truth is, we never stop learning, and the oldest form of learning is social – people learning from people. I continually seek out people from whom I can learn.

In more recent years, the way I meet with and learn from mentors, experienced people, professionals and advocates has changed. Where once these conversations were more formal and specific in location – at conferences, attending courses and webinars, watching TED talks and reading books. However, the shared experience of Covid forced us all to behave differently, a marvellous lasting legacy for we are much more social now. There feels a growth in the friendliness of our profession – even more so than before. Where once we met on Twitter and felt like we knew people when we met up in person, there was still a formality, a professionalism. Now we greet each other with smiles and hugs like long lost friends. It feels more acceptable to have meetings much more informally.

Personal confidence

During the pandemic, we had no choice but to beam ourselves into each other’s homes. We could wear our slippers to work. We could laugh together over the antics of our pets. And now due to those shared familiarities, there’s a confidence to make suggestions that my younger self might not have made, and to people I would not have felt I could! But now, asking a senior professional, whom you really respect to meet for a dog walk is ok. I wonder, is it only me that is still slightly blown away by this?

One example of such a relationship is with a CIPD Fellow, a decade more experienced than I, whom I hugely respect. I contacted her last year for a conversation and was so warmed to be invited to her hometown to enjoy a lovely walk around the countryside together. I love being in green space and find it hugely energy giving. That walk really was in a perfect learning environment for me and for her to hold space to listen to me and to share her thinking with me was a gift.

After a blog like this, it goes without saying really, could you offer this type of support, mentoring, coaching or simple kindness to a younger or less experienced colleague? Or if you feel I could offer you support in your career, please do not hesitate to ask for a chat, a dog walk, or a coffee. After all, informal is the new normal. 


Michelle Parry-Slater

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