Seven words. The journey to where I am now can be summed up in seven word bursts. I am the happiest I have ever been, despite my last five years being a rollercoaster that would have broken some people. It definitely would have broken me if it weren’t for the strength I have gained from the wonderful women I have had contact with in the four years; most of whom I have never even met.
“What do you want from your life?”
I am part of a generation that was brought up under the following belief system:
- Achieve at least 10 GCSEs ( grades A-C only are acceptable),
- Achieve at least 4 A Levels (whatever you need to get into the university you want to attend),
- Get a degree (2.1 is ok, a first is better),
- Get a job immediately, preferably before graduation (something with progression opportunities until you meet someone to marry when you must lose all interest in a career in favour of a family)
- Get married (someone with prospects, who can support you when you have a family because why would you want a career),
- Have kids (and maybe a dog),
- Work till 65 (probably something part time though as you’ll want to be with the kids)
- Retire (if you’re lucky).
That’s it, your lifetime spanning out ahead of you from the age of 14 when you have to make your choices for GCSEs.
“We’d like to offer you the job”
Along with this blueprint, kids born in the mid-eighties were instilled with a belief that You Can Do Whatever You Want. Go, be a pilot! Travel the world! Or don’t! Be an artist! Be a midwife! It will all be ok. I chose events, and carved myself a career and respect in the cutthroat world of weddings.
I have stumbled a few times on my journey, but at the age of 31 I found myself in the position of a great job offer in my field of expertise, paying more than I ever dreamed I could earn in the events industry in Lancashire. An up and coming company, primed for expansion, with loads of opportunity. I would be set for life.
“I have an opportunity I can’t refuse”
Sobbing, I handed in my notice to my general manager, a wonderfully strong and passionate woman who I still view as an excellent example of how to lead and achieve, and was such a cheerleader for me. “I dont want to leave,” I told her, “but it’s closer to home, better money, more progression..”. She said she understood, and my job was advertised within the hour. I was a commodity, and in the words of the operations director (a brilliant if slightly scary woman, with a hugely sharp business mind who suffered no fools) “everyone wants to work in events!”
“Oh, this doesn’t apply to you guys”
I sat through a day’s worth of induction at the new company that in the most part had no relevance to me in the slightest and every fabric of my being was screaming GET OUT! GET OUT! IT’S NOT TOO LATE! My first day on site in the new sales role that I had gladly accepted was serving tea and coffee to aerospace engineers, following the manager around polishing mirrors and trying to get the underpaid 18 year olds working with me motivated. Surely it gets better?
“That’s not how we do things here”
The culture of the company was so negative that I found myself getting sucked in. My motivation slowly started to melt away. “If they want to pay me this much to be a waitress, then they can crack on!”. Within a week I was doing the interview rounds again, all unsuccessful for varying reasons.
My sleep started to be affected, my weight crept up and up from eating chips every day. My skin was awful, I hated discussing work with my fiance as I had nothing to tell him. My days were spent planning my wedding, doing no work, as I had no parameters to work in, and any suggestion I came up with to improve things was met with a strong No. But, the money was amazing. Where is the line?
“I’m really struggling to sleep each night”
It took me a while to admit this to anyone. I opened up to my mum, my rock, and she didnt quite get it. Everyone struggles darling, it’s the way life is. Or suck it up buttercup. I realised that my mental health was deteriorating slowly but surely. I was such a go getter, but had lost all my joie de vivre. What really solidified my struggle was the fact that I was lying awake each night until 2am or later, turning things over in my head, what I hadn’t done, how was I going to get out of this situation?
“I think it’s time we part company”
A new general manager started. He wanted to see how I worked. He asked me to do some tasks, which I did. At the end of his first week, he let me go. Simple clean, thanks but no thanks, please leave everything on your desk and see you later. I was the 6th person out of an induction group of 8 to leave the company. The 69th person to part ways in the 6 months that I had been there. People are a commodity it would seem. “Everyone wants to work in events”.
“We will be ok; we always are”
The liberation I felt was exhilarating. I had been so terrified of not being in a job, not bringing in money, I wouldn’t have ever left any job no matter how unhappy I was. My now husband’s response was one of relief that I would be happier, and that we would make it work “we always do”. My friends immediately saw the difference in my demeanour. They saw how I was a different person without this weight pressing down on my chest. My mantra, “Actually, I Can” is a phrase I used daily, and at 33 I sat there, without an official job title, happier than I had ever been.
“Do you want to close your business?”
A new fork in the road. Two and a half years later, faced with a tempting choice and the knowledge that if I didnt take the leap, I’d always wonder “what if”. I had set up by myself before and if it went wrong or it was mutually decided that this wasn’t working anymore, I’d be able to do it again. However…
“Stay home, save lives, protect the NHS”
An unprecedented event. We are forever changed. A missed trip to Italy, many skipped birthdays, goodbyes without a goodbye, alone in a hospital. The loss both of loved ones physically and emotionally, something I hope no one has to go through again in living memory.
Lockdown had a significant emotional impact on so many and honestly I don’t think I will come to terms with everything we went through for many many years. The isolation and restrictions on daily life made me very introspective, paranoid even. I folded in on myself, questioning everything. I lost friends through neglect on my part and I dont know if the friendships will ever recover. That’s something I need to work on into my 38th year.
“I think we should start a family”
And that’s where we are now. And how that will look…well I’m just not sure. Am I selfless enough to have children in my life? What about B & I, will we be ok? Will we be forever changed? Does he want this? Do I want this? My brain is fried from the possibilities and opportunities but also at the lack of them. Time is not on my side but surely this shouldn’t be a “maybe” decision…
I have so many things I want to do in my life. I am so liberated, and with the support of my husband I am being given the opportunity to achieve greatness. My mindset is one of hope, belief and gratitude, I am kinder, I am happier, I am being the best person I can be, and all because someone decided I wasn’t worth the wage they were paying me.
If you are reading this, and it sounds familiar, make it work. Be happy. Money will always come and go and you will always make it work no matter how much is coming in. Please don’t wake up and suddenly your 65 and you have no idea how you got there.
Carry on the conversation – DM me @zoerdew