Much of my writing centres around my work for National Trust and on my attempts to improve my fitness. With the 1 year anniversary of my fledgling business approaching at the end of this month I thought I would recap on what I’ve learned, one year on.
A secure background
I was always eager to please those around me. I worked hard at school and succeeded at my exams to allow me to go to Oxford University. Having achieved a good degree (Chemistry) I continued in the same vein into a ‘safe office job’. I qualified as a pensions management professional (having briefly flirted with the actuarial world) and worked as a consultant for a number of years.
All of this should be a wonderful testament to a strong education system and personal determination. However, in hindsight, I’d suggest the reality was that I was doing what I believed those around me wanted rather than what was right for me.
Over time, the private company I worked for changed from an organisation that I felt shared my aspirations into one where my beliefs and values were at odds with that of the Company. Whilst the need to make money is essential for any commercial business, I felt that the lengths that it went to were beginning to override the very nature of the work itself.
Leaving first base
By coincidence this was around the time that I met my (late) husband. Loving someone who ultimately was battling with terminal illness really began to challenge my thinking. Such was the need for me to try to understand my own belief system that I started to volunteer with the police service as a special constable.
I went into this with a real belief that I was going to hate it. Now, this might seem strange but deep down I was trying to engineer a situation where I would suddenly be able to justify continuing my day job, with a perspective that in fact it was worthwhile to me.
What I got was not what I bargained for. In fact discovering a world where I could start to genuinely help people reinforced my own belief system, and strengthened my dislike of my corporate life. When the opportunity arose I applied to the regular force, and was accepted.
This was the first time I really challenged myself; do I stay where ‘people expect me to be’ or do I ‘go with my gut’. In the end I justified the leap of faith as being one that I had to make or forever would I be wondering.
Second Base – first impressions pretty good
Having made the jump and got over the shock of actually doing so, I suddenly felt alive again. My life had purpose and whilst I was now doing a job which required no academic qualifications, this wasn’t a great issue to me. Throughout the whole process the lure of opportunities to specialise and to learn different disciplines reignited my wish to learn; having done paper examinations each year for 16 years, I’d become jaded.
The problem was that the world was changing. This was around the time of the global financial crisis and public sector cuts were beginning to bite hard. That said, I continued to do all I could to obtain the skills that I needed to be able to do my job effectively with a forward looking eye.
Third Base – stagnation, frustration and illness
It was 2015 when my belief system was again being challenged. I was 3 years a widower by then, and despite thinking I’d dealt with the grief, the likelihood was that this wasn’t the case. Work was becoming a frustration; no opportunities to further a career, something important to me.
Moreso, due to what I would describe as a work-ethos 20+ years behind that which I experienced in the private sector, I was in a job that wouldn’t actually let me do my job. I felt helpless and threatened by the fear of failure. On top of that there had been further pressures in my personal life and in a nutshell, everything blew apart. I’d never taken sick-leave before (other than the occasional day in my office job, or for a tonsillectomy early in my police service). Yet suddenly I was signed off for many months whilst a work-appointed psychologist tried to put me back together again.
It was during this process that I really had to reassess where my life was going. In many ways this is where I had intended this article to start.
Fourth Base – looking for cheese
When I left my first job I realised for the first time, that my job didn’t define who I was. It was an important realisation as I knew that if need be, I could move on again.
I’ve read a number of articles recently, covering the world of ‘who moved my cheese‘ through to the concept of ‘looking for safety and security in work’. It was fortunate (accepting that the breakdown I suffered couldn’t be avoided) that I received proper psychological counselling. My psychologist persuaded me to explore my past and the reasons for my mental approach to life. I discovered why perfectionism and people-pleasing can be so toxic and ultimately destroy self esteem whilst learning to accept me as I am.
Reading ‘who moved my cheese‘, whilst perhaps now a bit of a cliché due to the way it has been used as a management ‘tool’, worked for me. To the point where if you’re sat in a job thinking you’re not happy with it, I’d recommend giving it a read. For me it clarified why I was paralysed. And also what I had to do to start getting better.
To be clear, this short read does not tell you how to run your life. However, if it strikes the chord it did with me, it may just help you to work out if the barriers you’re running into are actually ones of your own making.
Off the pitch and out of the stadium
What I learned from all of this was that I’d managed to convince myself that the only way forward was to conform with what I believed everyone wanted from me. As an Oxbridge graduate, that rather sticks in the throat! Where was the flair and problem solving person that existed as a young adult?!!
Sitting down and making a plan with a clean sheet of paper is very hard. Banishing preconceptions and social pressure is difficult. And coming from a highly conservative background it’s very easy to trap oneself into that mindset. (Neither actuaries nor police officers are known as breeds of renegade thinkers!)
I was still held back from leaving by social pressure; it’s not the done thing! Even though I knew that I would not recover without leaving it took the suggestion of being ‘action planned/managed back into work’ (a helpful approach by HR without considering any medical details) to galvanise me into action. My psychologist was aghast that work were trying this tack. Yet unsurprised that I’d posted my resignation. Something which DID surprise work. However unpleasant that move was, it did at least force the issue in my head.
One Year on – A new pitch
That was a year ago. 28 October 2015 I handed in my papers and launched all my efforts into my new business. My strength is now knowing who I am and what the business represents. Gone is the police mentality of ‘well it’s how we’ve always done it’. Corporate policies dreamed up away from the front line (either public or private sector) have gone too. These rarely reflect the reality of what is going on there.
Some aspects are new to me; Marketing is something I’ve no previous experience of and that learning curve is one I’m still working with. Accounting, numbers and paperwork is something I’m comfortable with. And general business etiquette is something which becomes more streamlined and organised as time goes on. I’ve had to tweak some things; my terms of business have evolved into something which more represents how I want the business to look.
Ultimately, the world is full of compromises. However, now I get to decide on what the compromise is.
2015 was a tough year to work through. I feel that I’ve learned a lot about myself and wanted to share some of that here.