Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Six months in...

It is six months since I walked away from my job and twenty years' worth of being focussed hugely on the twin gods of work and children. While we were in France last week I was asked a couple of times about how things are going and whether I miss my job. I have been carefully not thinking about it much for the last few months. I promised myself six months off, no strings, and I have found before that when you make a big change you need to live it for a while to acclimatise. Too much worrying and analysing and wondering if you made the right decision gets in the way of adjusting to your new job, your marriage, your new house or town or whatever. It is best just to leave it alone and let it happen for a bit.

So from time to time I have had to come up with something to say when people have asked me how it was going but I haven't done any real thinking or stocktaking. I've just said how busy I am, how nice it is not to get on the train every week and how good it is to have time in the garden. All true, all glib. So I thought I would have a proper think in this blog about what I have lost and what I have gained and maybe even what to do now.

There are certainly some things I miss from my working life:
  • my colleagues, both those who are contemporaries and friends and the young shiny ones full of enthusiasm and energy. I miss that sense of being surrounded by lots of people with a common goal.
  • the heady rush of the close of a successful negotiation meeting when you feel you have been riding five horses at once, turning and wheeling, keeping everything together, apparently calm but working furiously under the surface. Nothing outside work has ever given me quite that particular adrenalin surge.
  • that moment which would happen to me every week when walking down the street in London and relishing being just myself, no-one's wife or mother, not defined by my relationships with others but only by what I did.
  • the money, but astonishingly only a very little bit. I thought I would mind financial dependency very much indeed and would miss, not so much the restaurant meals and the new suits, as knowing that I did not have to worry about affording them. Having worked my way out of being very short of money I wondered how I would feel about needing to be careful again. Amazingly this, which I thought would be a big deal, is a very small one. It's fine. If you don't work you need less money and if you live in the country you have very little opportunity to spend it if only you can control your plantaholic tendencies.

And what have I gained?

  • time most of all, even though it feels as full to bursting as it ever did. I think this is mainly because if you have lived for a long time biting off more than you can chew, you just keep on doing it. Now however the time is thronged with things I have chosen and have never had time for before: yoga, Welsh, gardening on a silly scale. I found myself agitating today as I went to visit my father in law about the hundreds of bulbs I have still to plant. I had to give myself a quick slap about the head. If I have daffodils which should already be in the ground and tulips which can wait a bit, it is because I choose to. If I have a to do list which runs to several pages just as it always did, it is because I keep feeling that having left work means that I can do everything. There are still only twenty four hours in the day and still a need to sleep. I had a flash of memory today of when the children were small and I was on my own and trying to work as well and would find houseplants dying because I had not had time to water them. That sounds like a poor excuse but at the time it did feel that a plant would always be just a bit further down the priority list than the children, the job, the shopping and cooking and washing, doing all the utterly essential things to keep life afloat. I would mind a lot when I found another plant that had turned up its toes from neglect but it would happen again. I wouldn't let a plant die now.
  • And the other thing I have gained which I suppose is connected with time is freedom. This time which is so full is not directed by others, or only in so far as I commit myself to looking after my grandson or going to visit my parents. Even when I am rushing about cleaning the holiday cottage or hanging out yet more washing I am my own mistress now. Sometimes I am so used to reacting to the demands of colleagues and clients that I lose momentum all by myself, drift about from room to room, unable to settle to anything, listening to yet more news on the radio or spending far too much time on the computer. Usually the next day I wake up and am anchored again. I am learning, slowly. I really don't think I want to work for anyone else again now. I am already starting to take for granted the freedom to choose whether to make curtains or work in the garden, to rush over to Blackden or to spend thankless hours on the phone harrassing lawn mower menders. I should remember what a privilege it is.
  • Lastly I am gaining something in attaching myself to this place although I find it hard to understand or explain. We lived in New Zealand for a bit when I was a child and after coming back to the UK and going to university I moved about a lot. Even when I found myself living in the same city for twenty years I worked all over the place, often dividing my time between two cities, trying to keep a home and a home away from home going. Now I love just being here, waking in the morning and walking round the gardens and the field, watching the changing light on the other side of the valley, starting to know what the turning year does to the different parts of the garden, knowing my trees and my hedges. I don't yet know this land in the way I would have known it as a child, where to hide, where to find conkers, where to pick the grass which screeches for you when you blow it between your fingers, but I know some things. I know the order in which the trees come into leaf, where the snowdrops flower first, what happens if you walk up the hill into the view. My roots have always been my family and a sense that I could live anywhere. Slowly - we have only been here four years - I am beginning to feel an attachment to place which seems important for the first time in my life. I hated leaving it every week to go to London and being here most of the time is a great gain.

Well I am not sure that this takes me anywhere towards what to do now! Perhaps we haven't got there yet. Maybe it is significant that writing about what I have gained takes a bit longer than setting out what I miss. I wouldn't change it back, that is for sure.

35 comments:

  1. You are still on 'honeymoon'; it is wonderful to find one's feet in a new, long-term home, to explore, discover, make your own. Soon you may find, that you have just as little 'free' time in a retired life as you had during your working life . There will be new people to make demands, people who are keen to get the newcomer to serve on all sorts of committees, etc.,

    Retired country life can be great fun and very enjoyable; make sure you get your priorities right from the outset and all will be well.

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  2. I think my problem is not being retired really Friko! Too young and might not be able to afford not to work long term, or may be, not sure yet. I feel I should throw myself into some great new project but just living seems to be taking up all my time.

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  3. You sound happy.

    The thing I missed least when I stopped working was the money. It was the thing I thought I'd miss most, and money was why I had worked for several years when family called for my presence at home. Like you say, it costs less to stay home.

    I think your gains trump your losses. How wonderful is that?

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  4. This is such an honest and beautiful post and thankyou for sharing it. I too think that you are still in the honeymoon period but gradually something will emerge. It did for me and now I am busier than ever, but choose to be so, doing what I always wanted to do, but never could when we ran our own business.

    They say time is a great healer, it is also a great 'sorter out' of things. But the best thing for you is that you are enjoying your freedom.

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  5. When we lived in England and I gave up work to be housewife and mother friends used to tell me I was so luckly and that they would loev to do that but they couldnt afford to. In fact what they meant was they wouldnt want to lose the holidays and dining out, smart cars and clothes and all the other things money can give.

    It is easier here in Brittany as being a wife and mother is still seen as something worth doing even by the government and there is financial help. In the Uk I felt rather a second class citizen.

    I still have odd days when I wander around rudderless unable to motivate myself but I never have days when I regret the choice and am eternally grateful for having a husband who was willing to support me.

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  6. Having been freelance for the last year, I can truly empathise with you. Part of that time was going into an office to work, and I really hated it. For the last two months I've been on my own. What worries me most is financial security, especially when I don't get paid on time, and the feeling that I really do need to work to my list, otherwise I feel my anchor is dragging. I always put far too much on my list and end up frustrated at not having done everything. So I am learning, slowly, to be more realistic and, where possible, touting for work I like rather than work which is well paid. I have to have a structure to my day, otherwise I feel I can waste it so easily, especially on the computer.

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  7. Kim - I agree, I think the gains trump the losses, which has to be good.
    TGG - big words I suppose, time and freedom!
    WSC - thank you. I do suspect something will emerge and I sort of feel I have earned some time out.
    HAH - I have heard that before, that France is more respecting of the full time mother, and that is interesting. I think here we have almost a stand off between those who do work and those who don't. Sad as we are all mothers and should respect each other's choices.
    maddie - I like the idea of trying to focus your work on the things you really enjoy. I am sort of doing that but not getting paid for it!

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  8. That all sounds really positive, Elizabeth. I've come to realise I'm the kind of person who can focus on the good parts of most situations. Like you, there are bits of working (well, office working) that I miss - mostly the cameraderie, the feeling of being part of something, but I really appreciate not being torn in opposite directions, as I often was when I was working full time. I don't think it's a simple case of better/worse or right and wrong decisions, it's just about different ways of living. And at different times in one's life, different things seem to come into focus more. And yes, strangely, you'd think the money would be more significant, but somehow it really isn't, which is gratifying.

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  9. What an honest and interesting post. Some of what you say I can identify with not that I had a high powered job but in my case I was forced by sickness to stop and eventually retired on ill health grounds now I am nearly 100% recovered I am starting just slightly to mis the companionship of my colleagues and the gossip.

    I will be 60 soon so won't be looking for a job again but life is such a joy to have no pain and to be free to do what I want pottering at home or in the garden.

    I was sooooo lucky that my doctor realised it was Lyme Disease and treated me inspite of HPA advice and have my life again.

    I do spend rather a long time trying to raise awareness although I have totally given up on journalists, they don't look further than the ends of their noses and so many people have been helped like me it is all such a huge medical scandal, which will surface one day but sadly so many more people will suffer meanwhile.

    Sorry I wandered off topic as I tend to do with Lyme.

    I am so pleased you enjoyed your holiday in France and are settling for now in your current life I will watch with interest what new avenues open for you.

    Tongue in cheek, we could do with people like you to help raise awareness of Lyme Disease especially in the media just in case you do get bored in those winter months.

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  10. Sounds like you've found the time to BE, a golden time I think!

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  11. I'm glad that you've gone with the flow of your new way of life without any major regrets. For me it's the freedom you spoke of that I relish too. I hated being in a local government office where I always had to dance to someone else's tune and will be eternally grateful for the time I've enjoyed here to be myself. Finances may dictate a change in direction if our plans don't work out, but for now, I, like you, am happy.

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  12. I always love reading your thoughts Elizabeth; you are always considered and wise yet alive with the joy of things.

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  13. Great Post Elizabeth, and welcome back to the frosty Welsh Hills.

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  14. A lovely reflective post - as ever.

    Time to call one's own is most precious and other joys, triumphs and achievements take the place of a challenging workplace. That was right then, your Welsh mountainside sounds right now.

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  15. LBD - I think you express it perfectly, not right or wrong decisions, just different stages of life.
    Joanne - so sorry you did not have the choice about whether to work or not because of your Lyme disease. So glad to hear you are so very much better. Time to have some to enjoy life perhaps!
    Tattie - yes, time to be is a good phrase for it.
    Chris - you are so right, living in the now is the thing to do, tricky though isn't it?
    Sue - that is a lovely thing to say, thank you. Can't say I feel remotely wise but it is a great thought!
    Welsh Girl - thank you, this is a great place to be isn't it?
    Mountainear - I think the idea that what is right for one time is not the same as what is right for another is really growing on me. Certainly feeling happy here now. As with where you are, the beauty of place is a revelation.

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  16. It's good to take stock, but 6 months is to early yet to say where you'll be headed. Well, that's what I found out.

    The pluses sound much better than the minuses. Like you I miss my colleagues - that was one of my main motivations for starting blogging - I now realise with hindsight.

    I still see my friends from there once a month and whilst it's really lovely to see them, I'm always relieved I'm no longer in their world of work. It took me about a year before I could look at the building where I used to work and for it to feel like it was an alien place...

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  17. I enjoyed your post Elizabeth. I am a few months further on than you on the same path and I imagine a few years older. I had the opportunity to apply for voluntary redundancy in 2008 and was old enough to receive an occupational pension. The latter was the deciding factor. Like you I miss my colleagues. I also miss the precious daily contact I had with young people which formed the main part of my job. I have no regrets though that I took the decision that I did and it sounds as if you do not have any either. As for those daffs you can leave it until after Christmas at a push and still get flowers - the daffs have not read the books :)

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  18. I agree/empathise with every word!

    'What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.'
    How appropriate that these words were written by a Welsh poet, WH Davies - taken from his poem, 'Leisure'.

    Enjoy the moment. Love your understanding of your sense of place. Ride through the drifty, rudderless days - we all have them. The next day's usually more focused again.

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  19. Oh how I identify with what you say about that plant you couldn't find time to water Elizabeth. That is exactly where I feel I am now desperately trying to work out which 'thing' is highest on the priority list and feeling they are all at the top. Tiredness is my middle name. Golly what a depressing comment to leave you when I meant to say how much I enjoyed this meander through your thoughts. It sounds so much as though you are still letting go of what was before, but definitely as though you are enjoying it. x

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  20. really interesting read and made me pause for thought

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  21. I know its a really old cliche but I genuinely wonder how I ever found time to work (and I did a fifty to sixty hour week). There is just so much to do and I would not swap my sense of freedom for anything.

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  22. The freedom to choose what to do each day is such a treat - I still feel blessed and I retired 3 years ago!

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  23. What a heartfelt post Elizabeth - you are, I guess in a liminal phase and these transitions are so needed.

    But as Kim says - you sound happy and that is wonderful - it also means you have time to do things like come and visit for lunch - and that is even better :)
    K

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  24. PS
    Tulips are best planted in November and I have planted Daffs in February before now.
    K

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  25. Have a lovely time at Karen's next week. Having visited her last year, I'm sure you will :)

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  26. I think we often feel we have to 'achieving' something all the time and it is easy to feel a sense of having failed if we haven't 'ticked things off' the list.
    Don't be too hard on yourself. You have obviously done a brilliant job of raising your children to be kind, caring human beings and perhaps that is enough! Well done!

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  27. I very much identify with what you've written here. I'm in a similar situation, though have been away from my position less than 3 months.

    I do believe it's important to enjoy "just living" (and am envious that you're doing so in such a beautiful place) and trust that the time for more changes will come at the proper time.
    (And it's WONDERFUL to have time...)

    Look forward to reading more.

    Take care.

    Marsha

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  28. I knew you would settle into it all. You sound to be having a great time. I expect you miss the buzz of London - but would you change back to it? I guess not. Enjoy!

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  29. VP - interesting to know it took you so long to look at your office and feel you had truly left! I so understand.
    Anna - I like to know that other's know what I am talking about. All my non-blogging friends are either still working away frantically or never had "careers", busy though they are, so haven't had the contrast which I am still working my way through.
    HOTH - "drifty, rudderless days" is a great description!
    Pipany - hope you are not quite so frantic now. Make sure to have some time for yourself if you can.
    Muddyboots - thank you. I never really expect anyone else to be interested and am not sure how much I write for myself and how much to be read, but comments like yours make me realise how much I appreciate feedback.
    SS and Twiglet - you both mention freedom! It is a great thing isn't it and so hard to describe how good it is.
    Karen - so looking forward to meeting you and so cheered to hear about February and daffodils!
    Alison - yes, I am a sucker for ticking off a to do list.
    Marsha - thank you. I hope your own new life is settling down and giving you time and freedom too.
    Weaver - you are right. I would not change it.

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  30. Wow - so well put, of course! I am in a transition period myself, as you know - having just finished 16 consecutive years of having a small child in the house during the day. I would like to say I'm on my honeymoon but with basement floods, light and ceiling fan breakdowns, internet problems etc. I seem to spend a lot of my time waiting in for people.
    Still, it's nice and quiet!!!

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  31. What an honest post elizabeth. Honest and clear-sighted. I feel that whatever/wherever the future it will be right...for you and your time in it.

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