This post has been inspired by blogger and instagrammer Very Healthy Caterpillar. She wrote a post recently which you can find here about how her work life has shaped her.
There were many things in her post that resonated with me and made me think about my own work life and how each of the jobs I have had impacted my life and also how my mental state at various point in my life affected the work decisions I made.
The Early Years
I have always been very independent and had a good work ethic. At a young age I had to take on a parental role in my home. I was the eldest of four children and when my Mum had to go to work in the early 80’s to help support the family financially I took on the role of looking after my siblings, cleaning the house and cooking the evening meal. My Dad worked shifts so sometimes I was alone in the house with three children under 10. My Mum also suffered from depression and could be prone to violent moods so in order to avoid displeasing her I worked deligently to make sure everything was in order at home. At 12 I was regularly babysitting, cooking for six and cleaning the house. All at the same time as trying to keep on top of my school work. I had a lot of pressure on me from family to do well at school. It was not easy being a council estate girl at a Grammar School. The first in my whole family to pass the 11+ meant there were high expectations placed on me. I was constantly in fear of being a disappointment. I think this is where self doubt and lack of self esteem first set in. Most of the girls I went to school with came from wealthier backgrounds. They lived in big houses, wore the latest fashion trends and they seemed to breeze through life. And whilst they were my friends I always felt like I was a fraud in their world.
Whilst this wasn’t an easy start to my teenage years it did plant the seeds of a good work ethic and one thing I always pride myself on is that I work hard, give 100% committment and always do my best. I landed my first paid job at age 13 and 5 months. In the early 1980’s this was the age that legally you were allowed to work for 4 hours a week, in order to get the job I had to go for a medical and be issued with a work permit which was a green card to say I was fit and healthy. Hard to believe that this was how things were 35 years ago. Could you really imagine 13 years olds serving you in a high street store nowadays. Anyway my first job was in a shoe shop called Saxone (anyone else remember them) earning £1.38 an hour… isn’t it funny the things you remember!! I also remember being slightly jealous though of my friend who worked in Woolworths, as they paid 10p an hour more. I stayed working in this shop for 3 years. I was good at my job and at by the time I reached 16 I was Saturday Supervisor and also worked on the cash register, which believe it or not was quite a prestigious job back then.
I have always been a hard worker and also have the ability to turn my hand at anything, I am a bit of a “jack of all trades”. I have worked in a variety of occupations and different types of businesses. I had my first full-time job at 17. I left school after my O’ Levels and easily found a job in London. I worked in the West End for six years without a break. My first job was as an Office Junior in a Chartered Surveyors just off New Bond Street, In my first year I was offered the opportunity to train as a Chartered Surveyor but although I was good at my job I thought that I wasn’t good enough to take up the offer. So instead I left the company and took up a job as a Receptionist in a large multi-national Advertising Agency. For five years I worked my way up the ranks to become one of the few young female junior Production Managers in the business. This was an amazing job. I enjoyed working in the male dominated environment (which was very different in the 80’s than it is now) and at 20 I was enjoying long liquid lunches on expense accounts at some of the top restaurants in London. The hedonistic lifestyle didn’t last long and in the early 90’s, when the recession hit I was made redundant, this was a blow to my self-confidence and so when I was offered a more senior position in a larger ad agency without interview, instead of snapping up the fantastic opportunity, I ran away from London as fast as I could. Once again I was frightened of taking a more senior role and failing. So I took a lesser paid job as a secretary in a small local company, much to the delight of my then boyfriend, who hated me working in London, being successful and having a social life. For the next few years I settled into a different, more mundane life.
The next stage of my career was the sensible phase. After an exciting start to my working life things slowed down for a number of years. I settled into a life that I always said was not for me. I never wanted to be a wife, mother, housewife. I never wanted to work as a secretary which was why at school I selected science and arts O Levels instead of typing and shorthand, like many of my friends. But my new life pleased my family and so I towed the line and over the next 6 years I got married, bought a house and had two children. I continued to work hard and ended up in a great job in a manufacturing company as an Accounts Clerk, where I also completed professional qualifications. Again I was good at my job and soon became a Supervisor. But what should have been the happiest years of my life were in fact some of the worst. Don’t get me wrong I love my children but I am not the stay at home maternal type and I struggled with motherhood in the early years and suffered with Post-Natal Depression. I was incredibly unhappy in my relationship. My self-esteem was at an all time low due to mental and emotional abuse. After the birth of my second child I gave up work which on top of everything else resulted in depression. I had no self-worth, it was the first time in 15 years I didn’t have a job or money of my own. I rarely left the house. Even going to the supermarket was a struggle. But when my husband bought our first home computer it opened up a new world for me. I started working at home doing secretarial work and bookkeeping for friends who had their own businesses. Just this little bit of work and pocket-money was enough to give me back a little self worth. And after a few months, with the emotional and financial support of my best friend, I finally found the courage to leave my husband and start out on my own with my two children. This was definitely not the easy option but something I had to do for my own sanity.
A Fresh Start
Leaving my husband was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Starting over with two very young children and no money is no easy task. But despite the problems I was the happiest I had been for many years. I also started working in a local Estate Agents at weekends which got me out of the house and socialising again. I applied my normal work ethic and after a couple, of years I was again offered a fantastic career opportunity. To work full-time as a Sales Negotiator. But once again my self-confidence let me down. I did not feel I could commit to a full time role with two young children to bring up my own. So I turned it down and remained working for them at weekends for another year before I moving onto a new job. My next job was Contracts Manager for a local Timber & Damp Company. The owner was the friend of a friend. The money was poor but it was another of my most defining jobs. This is where I discovered my talent for planning, organisation and office management. This was a fantastic job. I loved the thrill of having to organise all the contractors, deal with problems and think on my feet. Unfortunately after only a year I had to give this job up to put my family first. My youngest child, who was three at the time, had viral meningitis and I felt the need to be at home for a while.
I stayed at home for the next six months. Money was tight and I could barely afford to live. This was in the days before Tax Credits. My ex-husband paid very little child support and so my debts piled up. I lived on the bread line. I know the full meaning of Heat or Eat as this was something I went through on a weekly basis. Things got so bad I could not afford to pay my rent and was subsequently evicted. My local council placed me in temporary accommodation, which was cold flat on one of the worst council estates in my local area. It was a very frigtening time and I spent most nights crying, huddled in bed with my two children.
However, despite being a very low point in my life, there was also a little ray of sunshine in my life too. It was during this perod that I met Alan, the man who is now my husband. We met in a bar one Friday night and immediately hit it off. We very quickly realised that we were each others missing peice. He lifted me up and encouraged me to see my own worth. He slowed me down and made me look at my life in a logical manner. He bought me out of the dark place. He is very solid, sensible and logical, which compliments my flighty and spontaneous personality. And in return I have made him a little less predictable and more impulsive. It was only a couple of weeks after I met him that I secured a well paid temp job with an international company as an Office Manager. This gave me a new lease of life. Eventually I also was lucky to be rehoused to a new home in the area I grew up. This was the start of stability in my life.
When my temp job finished I moved straight to another finance role in a local family business which was rapidly expanding. For four years I enjoyed my work and created systems and procedures that they had not previously had. I employed finance asistants but after my mum’s suicide I lost my composure and my emotional state was once agan in turmoil. I quit my job and spent 5 months at home before I felt brave enough to step back into the work place. Again I went to a lower paid, less demanding role. This time in the Public Sector as a Purchase Ledger Clerk. It wasn’t long before I found my work mojo again and I spent the next 12 years moving up the career ladder until I was managing million pound budgets in my local council. I can’t say I was working in my dream role but the jobs paid well, allowed flexible working which fitted in with bringing two children up on my own and also gave me the opportunity to learn new skills. For that I will always be thankful as without these jobs I would not be doing what I am doing now. There were still times where low self-esteem got the better of me. Twice during this time I turned down promotion because of a deep rooted fear of failure and not being good enough. But on the whole I was happy and my children were happy and that was the important thing.
Building on My Self Confidence
As my children entered the last year of their education I was very aware of the fact that I would suddenly not be needed at home as I had been in the past. Both my children were leaving home for new adventures and plans had already been made for me to move in with Alan, who I had now been with for 14 years. I was at a crossroads in my life. I had a comfortable job which I was good at but I had the urge to do more. The problem was I lacked the confidence to try to do something more demanding. Alan encouraged me and even said that he would take over all the responsibilities at home if I wanted to try to reignite a more fulfilling career. I must admit at 43 I felt I was too old to be starting over in my career, but I thought I would give it a try. It didn’t take long. I got the first job I applied for. The role of Resources Officer in Kings College London. This was the start of a whole new phase in my life. I loved working in London. The noise, the people, the social life, the opportunity to dress up. It was like stepping back into my 18 year old shoes all over again. I stayed in this role for a year before gaining another role in the University as a Course & Conference Organiser, which saw me managing a very busy education centre. This was the first time I had not run away from promotion. Finally with the support of Alan and people I worked with I realised my self-worth and accepted that I was good at what I did. Unsurprisingly, I excelled at this role and by the time I left two years later I had another new skill set and my self-confidence was at an all time high. This was also the same period of time that I married my husband and started using social media, including starting the mystylephotochallenge on Instagram.
Where I am Now
When the children were finally settled into their new lives Alan and I decided that we no longer needed to be living in a noisy and overcrowded London Borough. So last Summer we took the plunge and moved to a run down 1950’s semi in a Kent Village. Initially the plan was for me to continue to work in London while Alan continued in his job that allowed him to work a home 50% of the time so he could continue to look after all the household chores. But fate seemed to be on my side as just before we moved I saw a job as a School Business Manager in a local Primary School. This was the type of job that I had planned to work towards over the next couple of years. I certainly didn’t feel I had the right skills at that moment in time and I had no experience of working in a school. But both Alan and a close work colleague encouraged me to apply. I didn’t expect to get shorlisted, but I had nothing to lose. After all jobs like this, five mins from home, were not going to come along very often. To my surprise I was offered an interview the week we moved into our new house. I very nearly cancelled as my confidence took a little dip. I had just been through one of lifes biggest upheavals, I was surrounded by mess and unpacked boxes and couldn’t find anything to wear. My daughter talked me out of it and totally unprepared I went to the interview. Once there I automatically went into work mode and sold myself. I was offered the job the same day.
This has been one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. Firstly, I took a huge (and I mean huge) paycut moving from my job in London to this role in the School. Having never been a School Business Manager before and with no formal qualifications I am starting at the bottom of the pay grade. I work long hours and to be honest working in a school is a lifestyle not a job. I have had to battle with some staff who were downright nasty to me when I joined and have had to make some tough decisions including restructuring support staff and making people redundant. I have also had to learn to be less of a perfectionist and to love being around children (to this day my family are still surprised I am working in a Primary School as I have never been the maternal type). But I love my job and the kids. Even when I have worked a 60 hour week and I am exhausted. All of the skills I have acquired over the years and my natural abilities are used in this role. I have found something I am truly good at. I have just completed my first school year and I have just been told that discussions are being had with our Governing Body to move me onto the Senior Leadership Team. And I won’t be running away from that promotion. I can honestly say I am happy in my work. And in turn my self-confidence is pretty good. Well at work anyway. I still feel inadequate in some areas of my life and lack confidence in my appearance and when interacting with other successful women (social media doesn’t always help this – but that’s another blog post !!).
You would think that as I love my job so much, at 47 years old I would not be thinking about what I want to do next. But as much as I do love my job I am always looking to push myself and fulfil the need to prove to myself I can do whatever I set my mind to. Ultimately I want to work in an environment where I feel that I have made a difference to other people’s lives. I would also like to combine this with things I am passionate about. I have no plans to sit back and be comfortable. With the skills I have gained I would love to train to become a Life Coach, something that has interested me for many years since I undertook Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help with my depression and low self-esteem. One of the first steps towards a possible future career in this field is my blog and two online courses I am starting over the Summer. It maybe that I can use these within the school environment. But for now I have plenty to keep me busy until I am ready for the next new adventure.
Thank you for reading.