A good chum of mine has a photocopied sheet on her fridge door that says;
Though no-one can go back and make a new start, anyone can start from now and make a new ending.
I find this sentiment very appealing. It says something true, plain and simple. It is easy to get lost in the mistakes and distractions of the past and feel that you are forever destined to get things wrong, or be trapped where you don’t want to be.
I spent the latter part of my twenties working at times for charities, at times for myself. My working life was varied, interesting, inspiring even – though never brilliantly paid. But I could live with that. The feeling that I was never really working, just doing things that I enjoyed, more than made up for the lack of financial compensation. I learnt a tonne of stuff, mostly things that these days we’d call soft skills. And I discovered a great deal about myself. That I can speak in rooms of people and not feel nervous. That I can write for a variety of audiences. That I can help people make sense of their past and find hope for their future.
Now that all sounds very grand and rather self-promoting, I grant you. It wasn’t all fantastic, and I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t sustain my ride on the roller coaster of working for charities, who have such short-term funding, any longer. Being made repeatedly redundant, or functioning on fixed term contracts, was becoming untenable. I needed a ‘proper’ job. By the summer of 2001, I found myself 1) being made redundant again – for lack of funds, 2) separating from my first husband, and 3) trying to buy my own home. Back then you could get a mortgage no matter what your circumstances, but how to pay it? I applied for the civil service inspection job that I went on to do,in various guises, for the next 11 years, and got it.
In real terms, by taking that job, I exchanged insecurity for certainty, but also free thinking for robot-esque performance. I now had a party line to tow. Now I’ve said before that I did have a genuine passion for the subject matter of this job – Early Years care and education – but the expectations upon me, in terms of how I operated when face to face with providers, never sat well with my personal ethics.
I did what I had to do, back then, in a time of need. This country is currently full of people doing what they have to do (while hating it) or wishing they could find work that would even allow then to do what they must do. At no point do I intend to sound ungrateful for the relative comfort I was afforded by undertaking this role. But, when you wear a badge for a long time, a badge that is at odds with significant parts of yourself, the irritations can undermine your equilibrium, can leave you in need of psychological redress. I nearly left so many times – but always stuck it out, for very pragmatic reasons. I don’t regret that. But it has ultimately been a dead-end – and when it was suddenly taken away, it left me feeling de-skilled and panicky.
Three or four weeks on, and I feel that now I am free of it, I miss nothing about it – apart from the cash. And as I create a profile on People Per Hour, connect to others on LinkedIn, use Twitter to market my future self, I feel the old me awaken, and get excited again. Perhaps my forties really will be the decade where all these acquired skills combine to create for me a niche. It is truly liberating to be picking up the threads from my former selves – a little writing here, a little training delivery there – and seeing if they can work their magic for me again.
And when I think about the statement on my friend’s fridge door, it helps me to acknowledge that there has been a lot of useful learning over the last 11 years that may yet serve me very well. I shouldn’t just dismiss it, but embrace it. It can sit well enough alongside those other skills I gained earlier on. But now, now I can have more of a say in what my future looks like, and I can indeed ‘make a new ending’.
To conclude, I’ll tell you a little story. Last Friday, we adopted two adult cats. This is them:
As anyone who has ever lived with a cat will know, they do not take kindly to change, and their strategy for coping with such psychological trauma is to climb, up high, and stay out of reach for long stretches of the day. As it has been with these two. And, owing to a quirk of design that has the door to our loft looking like any other normal household door (rather than being a hatch in the ceiling), they have twice made it up into the loft to spend an entire day sleeping on insulation – and avoiding us.
On one of my many trips up there to try and retrieve them, I noticed this:
It’s an old penny, and is dated 1916, with George V on the back (Michael Gambon if you’re a fan of The King’s Speech). Now what’s that saying? ‘Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck!’. And that is how I feel at the moment. Lucky. And excited at finding my old selves are still in there; my very own stash of pennies, just waiting for me to pull the ladder down and discover them.