The theme of the moment for me is re-evaluation and trying to work out what’s next. Or being ready for anything!
The winds are changing, Mary Poppins style, as the events of 2020 continue to turn our way of life upside down. It’s so hard to write about the process of letting go of things in life when you are not sure what will replace them. But change comes for us all. Trust in the process of change, even when it’s uncomfortable. I’m working on it.
Like so many people, my job was affected by the pandemic and I’m looking for new opportunities. I was lucky to get plenty of notice. I’ve worked relentlessly for most of the year, not taking any time off to save as much as possible. Now I’m finally taking a break, as the dust settles.
Job changes can be difficult when work plays a key role in identity. I feel very keenly as a woman in my late 30s who is child-free, that I am supposed to be a ‘career woman’. We get put in boxes, don’t we? People need to know what makes us tick. I once remarked to my mother that my life looks so different to hers at the same age. You’ve got your career and all these opportunities I never had, she said.
Career woman is a very 1980s archetype, which in my head is embodied by Melanie Griffith in the fabulous Working Girl. If you haven’t got kids by my age, surely you should be charging about New York (or London) wearing shoulder pads and being a boss? Even though the most high-flying amongst us have now been working from home wearing leggings for months! We’re probably all having an identity crisis.
The modern version of career woman is more entrepreneurial and she is an artist / writer / Instagram influencer who also bakes cupcakes and campaigns for action on climate change. Or something like this. Perhaps we’re all just trying to get by, doing as many things as we need to do to piece together a living wage. Shoulder pads optional.
I realised years ago that work is only one piece of the puzzle and can never represent my whole identity. I am looking forward to whatever job comes next and recently wrote about my reflections on teaching design over on LinkedIn. I feel proud of what I’ve achieved in the last year and a half. It was a time of growth with a lot of lovely memories and connections made. I’m sad to move on from that, but hopeful.
Alongside career woman, another dated concept is the idea of ‘having it all’. Why can’t you have a great career, children, partner, home, friends, interests etc etc? But I’m not sure we can ever have it all at once. Friends with small children are clearly sacrificing any personal needs as they juggle everything during those early, exhausting years. I think a lot about the supposed fulfilment of marriage and motherhood. I really want to believe in it, but at heart I know no circumstances are ever without both challenges and joys. It’s about being present for my own, rather than focusing on what I might have. Again, I’m working on it!
The Bridget Jones theory:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.
I listened to Helen Fielding on Desert Island Discs, in which she discusses creating Bridget Jones’s Diary. I must have first read the book when I was a teenager and it’s strange how much of a cord it struck, given my own life in Stoke at the time was nothing like Bridget’s. Yet the idea of imperfection, of making mistakes, being worried and anxious and still making it through life with a sense of humour – that definitely helped me. I often recognise my own painfully Bridget moments now, the most recent of which was buying 4 self-help books!
Another great listen is Zadie Smith’s audiobook Intimations. I recommend listening to it because hearing her voice adds so much. This is one of the first published works about living through 2020 and the pandemic so it feels urgently relevant. She writes about the helplessness of lockdown and how everyone failed to understand each other’s suffering because it was born of personal circumstances.
It brought back a moment where I was on a video call with my sister and my little niece, who showed me her new puppy. After the call ended, the silence in my flat seemed to engulf me. I thought about hugging a child and/or a pet, the warmth, what it would feel like to not be alone. I knew there was an unbridgeable gap in our experiences at that moment. I did what anyone in my position would do and posted on social media. Reaching out for connection.
I listened to Zadie Smith as I walked through London, doing a journey I often do across the river Thames. There is a particularly funny chapter where having moved back to London from New York, she encounters an old family friend at the bus stop. The older woman announces she is going to the doctors to demand that her menopause is brought on TODAY. “Enough is enough – I’m done!”
I had a private giggle to myself and walked on.