Four years ago today I put my notice in and left my big job. Below is the blog I wrote in February 2009 when I had just done it. It was fascinating to me to read it again so here it is: why I did it and what I thought at the time. And at the bottom are my thoughts on what has happened to my life since then.
February 14th 2009. I have done it now. I have put my notice in. I have no job to go to and no immediate plans to find one. What kind of idiot puts their notice in during a recession? I am surrounded by people at work worrying about redundancy and I know some people who have already been made redundant and who are coping with the knocked sideways shock of it all. I feel almost guilty for walking away from a job in these circumstances but I am doing so, and it is not even a job I hate.
Work has been a huge part of my life for the last twenty years or so. When my first marriage failed I had to earn some money so I was pushed back into the world of work when my children were quite small. I remember vividly going into Manchester for an interview, wearing my pre-children work clothes, feeling like a child dressing up, and finding that walking along the pavement in my high heels with no push chair in front of me felt strangely naked and vulnerable, as if my children were my protection. But work was a help, a structure for the day, scaffolding which supported me when my foundations were still shaky, something I was good at. I vowed then that I would never be financially dependent on anyone ever again.
As my children got older I worked harder and longer. I married again and my husband was massively supportive, taking over vast swathes of home life along with his own job so I could work away and climb the ladder. I have had a lot from work: purpose, expertise, clout, money, intellectual challenge and great company. It has been my own thing where I have been nobody's daughter, wife or mother, just me, operating on my ability, sometimes high on adrenalin, making my mark. Sometimes it has made me sick, with worry or literally, and often it has made me guilty, especially when my children were younger and nothing was ever enough, either at work or at home. But it has been, with my family, the focus of my energy for a very long time.
I am still not 100% sure I am doing the right thing in walking away. The process of re-evaluation though has been going on a long time, since 2004 in fact. In that year my elder daughter discovered that she had an ovarian growth. She was twenty four, young, beautiful, in love, living in London and doing a ferociously low paid job that she loved. She needed an operation and I was in the midst of the last push to the highest aspiration in my job. I wanted to be with her so I jumped off the conveyor belt, took some unpaid leave and, when I went back, resolved to cut down the frantic travelling and the sixty/seventy hour weeks that had been my norm. She was fine, her lump was benign and the time with her was precious. I cut down to four days and the following year we moved to Wales to fulfil a long held wish to live out of the city.
We had only been here for about three weeks when I became ill myself. Life was turned upside down. This too was an ovarian growth. I wasn't sure I would survive. When after six months or so I emerged shakily on the other side I had the profound sense of having been given a tap on the shoulder: "Hey, you, weren't you f***ing listening the last time?" Not rational, I know, I know.
So I reduced my hours to half time, determined to find the time to do other things, to garden and write and spend time with my much loved parents while they are healthy and energetic enough for the time to be a pleasure for us all, not waiting until they are crumbling and so am I.
And I have done other things. I have made the very beginnings of trying to create a garden out of hill and stone and rough grass, scratching so much at the surface that it would barely be visible to anyone but me. I have started to learn Welsh but am still not even in the foothills, just trundling along the approach road. I have devoted a day a week to looking after my grandson, now nearly three, not always loving it as I have never been great with babies and very small children, but gradually finding real satisfaction in slowing my pace right down, sitting on the floor, playing the same games and reading the same stories and knowing that this is special for him.
But it is hard to do a job which is a 100% job with a determination to give it only 50% of one's time. It has become harder and harder to feel that I am doing a first rate job and that matters to me. I have swung from allowing it to take over and to begin to eat up my time and energy again and pushing back fiercely, knowing that I will not be true to myself if I don't spend time on non-work things, doing them properly with just as much commitment as any job. When I leave my hillside I rarely want to go, however good it is when I get there, and in fact if it weren't for staying with my younger daughter when I am in London it would sometimes be nearly intolerable to leave. Seeing her gives me a personal reward for being away from home and stopping doing that will be a real loss in stopping work.
So I am going to stop. What will I do? I don't know yet. Some more of the same: gardening, yoga, Welsh, family. Something new: I am to be treasurer of the Blackden Trust, a blog in itself. Something else.
Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and jump in.
Dear God, I hope it will be ok.
So was it ok? Yes it was and it is. In many ways rereading this was odd. It feels like another world, another life, that life where the demands of work were always hammering on my door, shaking me by the shoulder, whispering urgently at me in the middle of the night. I have become so very used to a life where my days are not entirely spoken for by paid work. I am not sure I could do that again: knowing that all the hours between 8 and 6 and more were committed to a job. I am used to my autonomy now.
And what have I been doing with all this time? Well I have indeed done all the things I thought I would do: gardening, yoga, Welsh and family and the Blackden Trust. I had one long year off as I had promised myself when I did just as I pleased and that stands out as a golden, glowing year, like an old postcard with a gold deckled edge. What I had not foreseen was how much the demands of family would change. I hadn't expected that my father in law would come to live with us, with all the associated satisfactions and constraints. I had no idea when I talked about spending time with my parents "while they are healthy and energetic enough for the time to be a pleasure for us all" that within a couple of years my father's health would have started to fail and my energetic and workaholic brother would have been put in a wheelchair by a massive stroke. How easy it is to take for granted that the way things are is the way they will always be. So the necessary time for family has expanded hugely and at least I have been able to do what I want to do without work walling me in.
So am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Am I happy with my choice? You betcha! Do I feel to have acres and miles and yards of time running through my hands like silk? No I don't. But it is good to be reminded that I had the courage to make a change when I needed to and that the life I am living is the life I have chosen. We are working this year on weaving more bright threads of fun and escape into the hard wearing tweed of daily life. We are going to London and Austria and to see the wildflowers of the macair on South Uist in the Isles of the Hebridees and I am going with a friend to learn how to build dry stone walls in Snowdonia. I am enjoying spending time with my family, despite the sadness that accompanies the illhealth of people you love, although I suspect I will always wish I could do more. So it is not entirely what I expected but it is good. This is life. This is me. Yes, right choice.