From education to employment


Arnie Skelton, Head of Enterprise and Innovation, EFC

I’m currently working in Epping Forest College, and I’ve spent over 35 years teaching, training and coaching others.  It’s been, and continues to be a privilege, and every so often I’m hit by an insight so fresh in the moment, yet so obvious in hindsight. And one of these occurred this week.

The College, like many, is facing challenging times, and we invest in supporting staff to face such challenges.  So, I was delivering a ‘resilience’ course to staff.  We reviewed and discussed the essence and ingredients of resilience – and the usual suspects were all there: fortitude, stamina, inner strength, persistence and bouncebackability…all important, yet nothing…decisive. Then later that evening, it hit me. An ingredient I’ve never heard or seen mentioned, yet to me, absolutely crucial:


Quite simply, when we are nourished or feel nourished, we are resilient.  It’s nourishment that’s the engine of resilience – and much else besides. Nourishment drives fortitude, stamina and all the rest.

Reflecting on my own experience as a case study I recognise that I feel at my most vulnerable when I feel undernourished.  And perhaps more importantly I initially sought nourishment from others: gravitated to tasks that nourished; drawn to people who nourished. And the reverse is true: I used to avoid, or resist, tasks that failed to provide nourishment.

So what do I mean by nourishment, or being nourished?  To me it’s a combination of two key factors long established as important and positive drivers: value and validation: but it is less about ‘valuing’ something or ‘validating’ someone, and more about ‘feeling’ valued and validated. Feeling and being valued is about being recognised for your worth and contribution – directly, personally, not in some general ‘catch all’ newsletter or poster; it’s a direct and positive connection between the giver and receiver: praise, thanks, consideration, support, having others take the time to listen, and seek you out as someone who is helpful and considerate.

These two factors together produce nourishment, in turn producing all the other factors so often quoted for success.  So if and when we are nourished, we then have the necessary ‘resilience’ attributes.  Once nourished, it’s easier to have fortitude, inner strength, calmness, stamina and the rest…  I believe that nourishment, driven by feeling and being valued and validated, is THE key driver determining anyone’s level of resilience – and by implication, well being (including of course, the ability to handle stress well).

In resilience sessions, we often talk as a metaphor about ‘keeping the reservoir topped up’.  Often this can be interpreted as getting rest, eating well, exercising – a lot of physical elements.  But I believe emotional nourishment is equally if not more important: for example, how can you rest or sleep easily if you feel devalued or non-validated?  Asking someone to top up on their physical reserves when in nourishment terms, they are emotionally drained, is impossible.

 In one sense, binge drinking, eating junk food, shouting, complaining and sulking all are short term forms of palliative nourishment – quick fixes, to compensate for the longer term absence of true nourishment.  A good example of short term gain, long term pain….

All the above suggests that feeling and being valued and validated comes externally from others.  However, in recent years, I have come to realise – initially unconsciously – that to be truly grounded, successful, resilient, I needed to be able to nourish myself.

Receiving unsought value and validation is lovely; however, beware of it becoming the drug of choice. Don’t become a dependency junkie, depending on others to value and validate you. What happens if externally-based value and validation aren’t forthcoming or are withdrawn? For many, this may lead to the cold turkey of a sense of rejection, hurt, isolation and failure. This is why internal self-valuing and self-validation have to be in place, to kick the dependency habit.  So to function truly healthily, with resilience, you have to be able to value and validate yourself.

For me, this is the key insight that hit me earlier this week: this combination:

FV1 + FV2 = N

Where FV1 = feeling valued and FV2 = feeling validated will determine N – your level of nourishment, and where:

FV1 + FV2 = N = H

leads to the ultimate goal, where H = happiness (however you want to define this).

So if this strikes a chord with you, three questions:

  • how nourished do you feel at work, in college?
  • What do you do to aid the nourishment of others (where little things can make a BIG difference)
  • What do you, or can you, do, to value and validate yourself.

At Epping Forest College, the leadership team work hard to personally recognise the contributions of others, as I’m sure do many of our staff.  We work hard to create a valuing culture, for staff, learners and visitors, and it works….  If you want to progress towards a nourishing culture, consider which of these you personally do on a daily basis:

  • Say please and thank you
  • Offer direct and personal support and help
  • Praise directly someone’s contribution and effort (even if not totally successful)
  • Anticipate others’ needs, and meet them
  • Put yourself out to put others in
  • (there are many more)

And avoid:

  • Platitudes
  • Lack of integrity
  • Generalisations
  • Personalised criticism
  • Blame (eg fix the fault, not the person)

As is so often the case – it’s up to you, and each of us, what culture we create.

Arnie Skelton, Head of Enterprise and Innovation, EFC

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