Saturday, 3 September 2011

Don't give up?

It dawned on me this evening, following a conversation with a friend, that I've spent half of my 34 years surrounded by children. I've worked with 'children' aged between 6 weeks and 19 years old in a variety of settings (12 - 19 year olds in a special school).
This work is tiring, in a mentally draining way, and as with most jobs, mindless paperwork and bureaucracy often spoil any real chance of progress.

 I would never claim to know a lot about children, and I am quick to defend people who are not a parent, because two of the most inspirational people I have ever worked with are childless.

The time is approaching for me to rejoin the working world, I blogged about my feelings regarding this a while back, here
I will soon be applying for a job at the local University canteen (maybe). The working hours are ideal - 10-2, term time only, so I can't miss the chance to work, yet still fit in child-care commitments. The other big thing - no children to 'tend' to in the day.

Part of me longs to live a more structured life, one where the washing has to be on the line by 8 am OR ELSE. 
Financially, work would just mean some of the debts accrued since I've been home with the children could be repaid - working would by no means provide cash for holidays and fripperies. 
Work may lead to me gaining special new friendships or forge opportunities, and even though I've only been out of work for 3 years, I could finally shake off the awful 'lady of leisure' tag given to me by  some working people.

In all honesty though, I do not think being in gainful employment will be the answer to all my prayers.
I'm not a great 'team-player' - my ideas often go down like a lead-balloon, my sense of humour seems to offend more than entertain, and I usually get on like a house on fire with "that weird Italian lesbian from the agency" (true story).

This is the spot at my local petrol garage where the staff  take their cigarette break

Ideally, I'd enjoy having a few months on my own - children all in school. I could go shopping sans pushchair, browse the charity shop wares in peace, maybe even go to a cafe and have a drink; daydream and look out of the window.
I could clean the house in one go, instead of having to keep stopping to escort a child to the toilet, provide a snack, or glance at Mr Tumble and think 'no, he's not bouncing a little blind girl on his knee, surely?'

Starting this blog in February has led me to discover so many inspirational people, and that is no exaggeration or vain attempt to flatter anyone. Many of the people I admire are 'doing their own thing'.

I never realised I enjoyed writing, simply because I didn't do it. I used to keep diaries, but the last one I kept was in 2002, which reads like the memoirs of a chronic misery with a severe dose of hypochondria (I can't imagine why).
 When I get a job, I'd imagine this blog will be put right at the bottom of my priority list (not that I have ever compiled a priority list). This would be a shame, I really enjoy reading blogs, keeping mine and 'meeting' so many interesting people (the likes of which I never seem to meet in real-life).

The whole 9-5 existence is a great way to fill your life, compartmentalise your time so there is a limited number of hours in which to indulge in passions or folly.  Wine and fine food on the weekend, sandwiches and weak coffees through the week, swallowed with a heavy dose of mindless banter  - "did you watch the X-Factor?".

I know this life beckons, it calls my name, tells me I'd be great on the tills at Tesco, or helping a group of children with challenging behaviour to overcome their problems (I really do enjoy this, it's what I always did best). I also know, though, that once I get a job, that's it until my late sixties at least - working and coming home to cook, help with homework, taxi boys to clubs, get everything ready for tomorrow, organise life's mundane yet essential activities, and flop, exhausted, onto the sofa every night.

Before I succumb though, a foolish little voice keeps squeaking away, (though admittedly, it's getting more faint) saying - "come, follow me, there is another way, YOUR way. You CAN live your dream, you can be what you want to be, just believe".

I am torn.
 Tell me, do you like your job? If you are retired, a student, self-employed or unemployed, or indeed a man/lady of leisure - what is your take on it all, I'd love to know?


  1. I was unemployed for all of 2008 and in some some ways, it was a very happy time. I'd spent years living in fear of losing my job, thinking that my life would fall apart, but we survived and I enjoyed the challenge of living frugally.

    During this time I read two books by Tom Hodgkinson that really inspired me: 'How to Be Free' and 'How to Be Idle'. I realised that the whole 'nine to five' thing was a relatively modern invention and a very unnatural way of living, sapping the human spirit. I resolved to change my life and never get sucked into the rat race again.

    The two things that stopped me completely enjoying my year off were the fact that I didn't want to live on benefits and had no idea if or when I was going to find another job.

    Then, by sheer luck, the perfect job appeared out of nowhere. I loved it, but as time went on, there was a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. I was back in the world of 'nine to five' (or longer, in reality), crawling through traffic on wet wintry mornings, sitting at a desk in an open plan office, worrying about sales figures and staff problems. And for what? I wasn't even earning that much.

    I looked back longingly at my year of being unemployed.

    I hope that I've now found the right solution: working for myself. I'll be in charge of my own time and will be able to work as much or as little as I want, around the demands of family life. Obviously the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but I know that if you're on a wage, your employer usually only pays you half of what you're worth.

    So the point of my very long answer is that instead of the grim prospect of working long hours for little money, why not try self-employment? What about selling some of that charity shop stuff on eBay, or if you're used to working with children, mix it with childminding? This would at least give you the flexibility and freedom to develop your other interests like writing, which might end up being a more fulfilling a source of income.

    I've give it a go before succumbing to being a wage slave. It's quite clear that you don't want to do it and although you may feel compelled to do the 'right thing', you'll be no good to your nearest and dearest if you're unhappy.

    Sorry for such a long answer, but it's a subject I feel passionately about. I'd definitely read 'How to Be Free' - it's a breath of fresh air.

  2. Steerforth - thank-you for the long comment, don't apologise (I hardly leave brief comments!).
    I spent half of the night thinking about what I'd really like to do, and you're right - I DON'T want to work for anyone at the moment.
    I used to love working with Autistic children, but some very grim things happened towards the end which I wouldn't want a repeat of.
    I think most parents go through a phase of thinking they could earn enough money by setting up a small enterprise from home, and I really admire the people who go for it.
    Child-minding is something I have seriously considered, there's a huge demand around here. The paperwork and courses would drive me mad, but that is part of modern life and I have to deal with it.
    I have to accept that nothing is perfect, something always has to give. Going without money is the lesser of the evils sometimes.

    I've ordered the books,I'll let you know how I get on...

  3. I've always worked for myself - I don't handle authority very well and it's in everyone's interest that I keep a respectful distance - and I'm very suited to the freelance mentality - but then I don't have any responsibilities or children etc - and I have that gnawing little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I will have to work until the day I die - I'll probably have to take a part time job at the Swiss Clinic I chose to pay for my own extinction, and I have almost no resources if 'something goes wrong' - and it usually does. Being self employed means that I am never 'out of work' - despite the long periods when work does not turn up, and I can never refuse anything - so end up juggling too much work and doing it very badly. I spend half the year teaching, partly for the stability - and partly because I like it - but my limited brushes with authority there mean I am always on the cusp of histrionic resignation and flouncing off into the sunset. I yearn for the mindless monotony of a job that I just did to pay the mortgage and forgot about at 5pm and had a life - but I'd be sick of it after an hour and a half - or walk as soon as someone told me what to do.

    Fortunatly, I have developed the ability to live on nothing for long periods - it's always feast or famine in my house, and always will be, but the way I work is appropriate to me, my mental health and the comfort of everyone around me - I just never answer the door, the landline, or open brown envelopes.

    My advice is to cultivate friendships with wealthy, successful people - they throw away GREAT stuff!

  4. I like this post - I always thought there was something else out there for me ...! I'm now in my 50s and still don't know what I want to do "when I grow up", although I've tried various options. I also feel that I don't really fit in - I don't follow the herd, but go my own way. One thing I have discovered is that you have to grasp all the opportunities that come your way - you just never know!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  5. I think Steerforth has given some wise advice (although I’ve never read the books). I don’t see you working for other people and I’ve said on more than one occasion that I think you should nurture your writing talent. Setting up your own business would be a scary thing to do in the present economic situation, but it would give you something to work towards, and it would be all yours.

    You know my situation very well, so I won’t bang on about the joys of retitrement and being free from the shackles of authority, but you have a long way to go yet before that becomes an option. Now you’ve taken the first step of deciding to do something positive, take the next one slowly and carefully. Don’t jump at the Tesco option if it’s going to make you unhappy. Take your time, look around and weigh up all the pros and cons. Perhaps you need to make a ‘mindmap’!

  6. I think you will love the Hodgkinson books Lucy, I'm excited for you, reading them for the first time! He's done one on parenting as well which is an interesting read. His philosophy of child rearing boils to down to one phrase - leave the kids alone!

    The work question is one which we all have to grapple with (unless you are born into a life of luxury) at some point. For me, I didn't know what I wanted to do after my degree. I moved to a town with chronic unemployment to be with Becky and ended up going into Local Government as the least worst option at the time. I did have a vaguely political desire to help improve things for the town, and I still do to an extent. I currently help the council I work for improve the services it provides through making the best use of its buildings and spaces (I work with teams of Architects and Surveyors) e.g. libraries, offices, children's homes etc. This is a surprisingly complex task as there are all kinds of factors getting in the way of improving the services, not least budget cuts (and job losses that go with them), political infighting and the way local government is structured in general. It is these factors that have led me recently to wonder whether it is worth all the effort.

    I've had some quite lengthy debates with B about changing jobs, and perhaps even downsizing. Like Steerforth and Grey Area I can certainly see the attraction in working for myself. At the moment however, I am on what is called 'compressed hours' which means I fit 37 hours work into Monday to Thursday, and have every Friday off to be with my daughter (and my son before he went to school). It means starting work before 8 and leaving around 6 each day, but I think it is worth it to have the extra day with Eleanor on my own. I think the phrase is a horrible one - 'work life balance'. But I guess my point is that a job doesn't have to be 9-5, Monday to Friday.

    I also have to say that whilst there is a fair bit of the 'Did you watch X factor last night?', there are also the moments that stay with you. Last week a chap I've worked with for five years just opened up during a quiet moment and starting talking about how he met his other half in a Sheffield nightclub 30 years ago and how pleased he was that he met her. He spoke movingly and eloquently in a way he has never done before. People can surprise you. And like you mentioned, the people you work with can provide new opportunities. In a couple of weeks I am going kayaking with a work colleague (who is a bit of an expert) down a river that runs through Sheffield, I cannot wait. The river there is far prettier than you would think, and I hope that I can do more of this kind of thing in the future.

    For you, whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck. I think you are some writer, and can imagine you earning money from it.

    Again another long comment and I apologise, it's a rainy day here in the north, the children are playing nicely (for once) and Becky is getting ready to go back to work tomorrow. So I've enjoyed myself on the internet this morning!

  7. My first thought reading this, particularly the opener of "I've spent half of my 34 years surrounded by children" was "gosh, I hope she likes kids!" I hope you find the right job for you - and if that means continuing on at home with your boys, then go for it!

  8. never stop writing ... it is the best way to achieve "joined-up-thinking" ... and never stop blogging, even if you have to give it less time, the feedback is infinitely rewarding

  9. Having just returned to work, I shared some of your trepidation. I'd been a stay at home dad for over 10 years and the thought of working full time again filled me with all kinds of worries. During this time I had done five years of 'part-time' and temporary work, so I wasn't totally 'idle' over that period. Unfortunately I'm not a get up and go kinda person, so I've never managed to sort out what I'd really like to do, and frankly over the years have drifted from job to job with no real focus. The position I just started is in community care, again something I'd kinda fell into, though it's something I feel strongly about, so I guess I'm half way there. TBH, the hours are killer, anything from 6am - 10pm on any given day, flexibility is a given, but I hadn't factored in how the time away from family would really start to take it's toll on me (and them). Plus, the company organisation sucks, but I'll look for a similar position elsewhere as soon as I can.

    Usually in the summer holidays it's cheap days out and holidays, something I've missed badly this year, though I can't deny, the money has come in handy, as we're slowly slipping further into debt, even though we are pretty frugal in all things. Cost of living and all that...don't get me started!

    I'd think twice about doing a full time job if I was in your shoes, it's a massive drain on energy levels. Maybe the way forward would be self employment, but having seen a few friends businesses fold in recent months, I don't think it's the best time to start up.

    I'd give a big thumbs up to the part time position, it's good to meet new folks, and it isn't so important that you like the same things, after all, it would be a dull world if we all...
    Plus, I found when I was at home, it and the kids tended to be my 'world' and I tended to regularly shut out things outside my comfort zone. My advice would be give it a go, if you don't like it, you can always jump ship. You might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome though.

    Your right about the blogging though, mine has fell through the floor :/

  10. Hello:
    After many years in education and in garden design, we now feel very privileged to no longer work [we hate the term retirement]. We love the way that the days stretch ahead with only the timetables that we create rather than those which previously we had to follow slavishly. However, possibly living in Budapest for most of our time also adds to the appeal since there is so much to discover in our adopted home and to feel European [with the climate to match] is something we really do enjoy.

    Teaching in whatever form is incredibly demanding and challenging. It does have its rewards but it also carries a great weight of responsibility. Perhaps you have done it for long enough and the times they are a-changing?!!!

  11. Grey Area - thanks for an honest glimpse into your working life. From (avidly) reading your blog, I see you as a bit of a workaholic! You're obviously very passionate about what you do, and seem to set very high standards. If people say you don't have the same responsibilities because you haven't got kids - fair enough, but I disagree. Some of the most irresponsible people I've met are parents. You have a house, 2 dogs, and load of students to see to - nobody is going to share the burden, give you time off for the vets, or bail you out with a 'crisis' loan if it all goes wrong (how depressing - sorry).
    Anyway, the short reply is that you're doing what you like, and doing it well - that's commendable.

    Liz - so refreshing to hear you still think about what to "when you grow up!"
    I suppose the perfect job doesn't exist (though writer for Viz comic would be pretty damn close).

    Little Nell - I get the impression you have managed to strike a very good 'work/life' balance over the years, resulting in an idyllic retirement.
    Working, in the past, has lead to the best and worst experiences in my life. There is nothing more rewarding than working towards a shared goal with dedicated professionals, and nothing more soul-destroying than the opposite. I'm sure if I start a job any time soon,, I'll be full of enthusiasm for the first 6 months - lulling me into a false sense of security!

    Ben - You make a very interesting point about colleagues, and I hadn't thought about work relationships like that. I worked with a lady who lost the use of her left arm due to an injury caused by a child. Going through that together led to a friendship like no other.
    Your job sounds great to me, but I can imagine some of the limitations you face getting to you at times.
    When you have the perks of a job like yours and a young family, it'd be a huge decision to give it up. One day, you'll just 'know' the time is right.
    Thanks for being so kind about my writing, I'd love to dedicate more time to it as it's very amateur at present, sometimes I suppose you have to 'make' time.

    Cliodnha - luckily, I'm very fond of children. Their sense of wonder, innocence, thirst for knowledge, adventure and fun is very inspiring. Sometimes though, I long for a job where I'm quite far removed from the rather undeveloped hygiene awareness and social skills of children (then again, many adults struggle, don't they?!)

    Tristan - good advice, the support of feedback has been a wonderful discovery since starting this blog, who needs drugs and therapy?

    Stensil Head - a massive leap for you after a very dedicated stint as main carer for your girls. I agree with what you say about your children becoming 'your world' - not always a healthy thing.
    Part-time work is going to be a must, I think. I have never had time 'to myself' in the day, so who knows - maybe part-time work would be a wonderful way to address the balance between home, family and work.

    Jane and Lance - I was interested to find out more about your backgrounds. It seems you have embraced your freedom wholeheartedly, and haven't fallen into a boring routine of convalescence as so many do, particularly in these parts, despite still being young enough to fit in many years of adventure.
    A change is certainly what is needed for me. I do not wish to be in any sort of comfort zone as I strongly believe "familiarity breeds contempt.

    Thanks to everyone for taking the time to advise me and explain your perspective. I now see that we all have to shuffle our lives considerably in order to make all the demands fit comfortably (or, at least, fit).


  12. I'm a single mum and have a job that I got back in 1995 to help make ends meet for 6 months or so. Now divorced, it pays to keep the roof over my head and food on the table. It's not in any way challenging or interesting, but my work colleagues are great and the ambiance is fab, so there are compensations. I do 35hrs a week but have Wed afternoon off to fit in with French schools.

    To keep me sane and creative though, I met a guy who wanted to develop writing educational resources. He asked me to write a couple of bits and bobs, liked them and I've been writing for him ever since in my spare time. I'm not making any money out of it yet, but the now expanded team is hopeful that we can soon reap the benefits of our hard work.

    I've managed to organise my work and life so that we all - the boys and I - benefit, from where we live which is near my work and their schools and also very safe, to being available for them by not working too hard or being too stressed.

  13. Hello, will be interested to see how work, erm, works out for you. As you know, I've been a stay at home parent for 6 years now, and I'm very daunted about the prospect of returning to the job market. I liked some aspects of my job in publishing, but it was never my dream career. To be honest it was the next best thing to the job in journalism which never materialised. That said, I've also worked in a sandwich shop, which I probably enjoyed about as much. Like oh so many bloggers, I'd be quite happy running some kind of vintage/craft related stall or shop, although I'm vague about the details - think Edina from Ab Fab - "just gorgeous, lovely, tasteful, stylish, beautiful things darling". This is probably the result of having more aspiration than ability.

    When the kids are both at school the plan is to give myself a year to continue with the writing - you should keep it up too, as much as you can. If anyone would pay me to write humorous nonsense about pop-culture - whilst dressed like a less annoying Carrie Bradshaw and with a similar working day (2 minutes on the laptop, 9 hours at the shops), I guess that would be the ideal...

  14. I've been unemployed since November, my self esteem has never been more battered in truth!

    I picked up some casual work for a cafe between Feb and June but the shifts dried up and since then I haven't heard a thing from any application I've sent. I do keep trying to remind myself it isn't personal and that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people in my position - hence the ridiculous competition for all jobs (over 200 applications for the last one I was interviewed for) but it's difficult not to think that there is something wrong with me.

    Jem xXx

  15. Sarah - you describe the situation I'd like to be in - working but not allowing it to creep into my private life.
    To have a sideline which stimulates you creatively is admirable, you obviously organise your time really well.

    Lakota - You have both the talent and experience to live the life you dream of. I reckon you should create an online magazine - Jem could work with you, it'd be brilliant!

    Jem - I'm serious about you collaborating on a website, if you started it as a hobby - who knows where it could take you? It must be disheartening not even getting to interview on some jobs, but you're talented, educated and clever so there will be something great ahead for you really soon, I just know it.

  16. Wow, ive just spent the last 20 minutes reading your post and all the replies, its great to see where everyone stands on the whole employment front so here's my little take on it.

    As you know Ive just returned to work from my years maternity leave, which with sleepless nights, screaming tantrums, loss of several "friends" has been one of the best year of my life. Had it not been for my work break I would never have found blogging, or the kinship Ive made with so many people who 'get' me. Ive now had to go back to work and start from the beginning again. My 3 years previous means nothing and they have put me back in a different department to "re-train" - i.e now Im a part timer try and find somewhere to put me. I loath it, I have a feeling of dread most mornings knowing that I have 8 hours ahead of me to get through.

    I do work with some great people so adult conversation that does not evolve around children is nice and having the break from my little man does make me apprieate all the time I now have with him when I am not working, and of couse having the extra income is always handy. I could probably scrape the barrel for a few more posives but on a whole Im not loving the current work part of my life.
    I too long for the dream of working for myself in something I love doing but its more of a dream than a possibility for me. I also want to have more children, would I be silly in giving up a wage and maternity benefits to chase my vintage business dreams?

    For now I indulge myself in my ebay empire (hubbys term not mine) - its gives me extra income, gives me the thrill of shopping for bargains and making a proft safe in the knowlege that someone will not have to dig me out of my home through my hoarding impulses. It might be naff per una at the moment but maybe one day my vintage boutique will find me :o)

    I wish you so much success in what ever you decide to do but Im sure you'll still be able to blog along with us, we'd all miss you if you didnt. Scarlett x p.s Havent proof read this so sorry for any typos - eek!

  17. Oops just seen all the typos - what a loser ;o) x

  18. Scarlett- I really couldn't care less about typos, I've given up on correcting my posts, nevermind comments!
    Shame about work not giving you any satisfaction. Going back after maternity leave is like being the new girl again, they've kept on going without you and you have to prove your worth again. I went back after a year off and had to announce I was 3 months pregnant - it went down a storm (as you can imagine!). You will only become more determined and focussed as your family grows.
    Passion and belief are all you need, despite the doubts that others plant or you allow to cloud your vision.

    I have reached a conclusion.
    When my youngest starts school in January, I'm going to volunteer my services at the school. I already help with all the fundraising stuff, now I'll offer reading support and that kind of thing. I'll impress them SO much, they'll use me as their supply teaching assistant and eventually offer me a contract.

    We will ALL live happily ever after!

  19. That sounds like a good plan A Luce. I suggest having several plans and doing them all at once until you get a feel for which is the right direction. Treat your writing like a job, even if you can only manage an hour a day. Whatever happens you must just keep writing regardless, you know that don't you?
    I loved my job, especially when I went down to 4 days instead of 5 days a week, the people were brilliant-clever, funny, encouraging and not bitchy, but after 5 years in the same place I needed a change. I love being a stay at home mum now. I like change and variety though, so i'll probably go back to Uni when the kids go to school and do something else, or I'll go do a small business course (for the future, defo not the time to set up something now). Knowing me I'll do both, stressfully, at the same time x

  20. Max - thanks for the encouraging comment. I like variety too, I was 6 years at my last post and it got steadily less inspiring. Once, a gap year student came to gain some experience at the Autistic unit. I'd worked with the same group of pupils for years (usually they move you around every 2 years). I thought I knew the pupils inside-out, I'd watched them go through so much. The student challenged a lot of the things I was doing, and managed to make lots of minor, but significant changes. It was then that I realised I'd been there too long.

    You clearly DO love a challenge, but so many of us thrive on pressure and stress. Sometimes, doing several time-consuming mind-expanding things at once, is a good thing.

    p.s I bought a Cabaret Voltaire album because I liked the cover once, it had an illustration of a doctor in a mask on the cover.

  21. yay! it's a plan... coz i was thinking about you going to work when i was relaxing at the end of 'balance' class...(really). glad about the volunteering plan... i think it's best to avoid work if possible (tho i do like my job).x

  22. Your job does sound lovely Sian, hold on to it!
    I went to exercise class today, I enjoyed it so much, I thought "I am not giving up my Tuesday morning for ANYONE!"
    Meanwhile, my neighbours pull up in a brand new car. They are soon to be a family if 4 so "need something bigger"
    Shame we have to squeeze into a car smaller than their old one, we 5, that is!

  23. I've been self-employed for four years now and absolutely love it.
    I trained as a chef and because of my A Levels and bossy nature I was headhunted and more of less forced into corporate hospitality management which I spent years absolutely loathing, I lived a lie, a split between hard-drinking party animal at night and stern, authoritarian figure by day. I earnt a big salary, spoke at youth conferences and featured in trade magazines and hated every working hour. After ten years I decided for the sake of my sanity to clear my desk and walk away. It was the bravest and best thing I ever did.

  24. Loving reading some of the other replies here!!

    I'm really going to have to just try to make my own employment I think - Luce you have a good point about trying to do it for myself and just seeing where it takes me, might work, might not but at least I will have tried!!

    Luce - I think the volunteering plan is a brilliant one, gets you contacts and will also be really enjoyable and fulfilling. With any luck you'll then end up with some paid work off the back of that too :-)

    But you must keep writing or I'll brain you!!!

    Jem xXx

  25. My work life went a bit like this: banking, college, secretary, PA, baby 1, PA, baby 2, solicitors, baby 3, SAHM, then volunteering (loved this) and university (loved my degree too). Volunteering led me to sessional work supporting disabled learners which I enjoy and which fits in with my children. I earn a lot less than I did as a career PA but moving out of the corporate world to a more caring job is much more satisfying.


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