I believe that when there is a plan for your life and you are not doing what you were put on this earth to do, somehow something starts shifting to make sure you change direction and start doing it.
The messages can be subtle at first, gentle like a breeze when you’re sitting on a bench by the ocean; a little tickly perhaps, but you’re not uncomfortable, and it’s not enough to make you go anywhere any time soon. But then maybe the wind picks up, tossing your hair, making you cold and you wonder whether you should move out of the wind. But still you stay. And then it starts to pour and pour with rain.
Something similar has happened in my life recently. It was a long time coming. I have spent the last ten weeks or so processing it. It hasn’t been easy, but the place I am in right now and the peace and freedom I feel as a result, which was sorely missing in my life only a few months ago, has been life altering.
About ten weeks ago, exactly four weeks before my big trip home to Australia, I was made redundant from my day job in publishing. It came out of no where. Looking back, all the classic signs were present – a merger, a company meeting to tell everyone how great the outlook was (!), the head of department suddenly never being there, and just a feeling that something wasn’t quite right…..but we all stuck our heads in the sand and carried on. As you do, when you know something bad is afoot.
It was horrible. It reminded me of being dumped. Even though you know it’s for the best, and you know it’s their loss, blah blah….it still hurts. I had been in the job for nearly five years - it was the first job I’d got when I arrived in London. The place had been a constant in my life here, and the people like an adopted family of sorts. It had been a flexible, easygoing and happy workplace, for the most part. I had had my moments of inertia and wanting to move on, feeling trapped, frustrated and occasionally undervalued; but I felt that was more to do with the fact that, as pleasant as the job was and as much as I liked the people I worked with, I didn’t really want to be there. I just wanted to be a writer. I didn’t want to be editing other people’s work, or be a glorified PA, for the rest of my life. I had been saying to myself for a while, “I don’t want to be thirty and still there,” and yet May 26 came and went, and there I was. Still there.
When we made the move out to the country in September last year, I started commuting in to London. It was two hours door to door in the morning, and the same in the evening. I would leave home before the sun came up, and it would be pitch dark before I’d even left the office in the evening. The days were long, and I found I wasn’t enjoying them. There is nothing like four hours of commuting each day to help you realise whether what you’re commuting for is worth it or not.
So why didn’t I just leave of my own accord, you may wonder. There were a few reasons. Firstly, a lot of people told me I’d be stupid to. Also, compared to some other jobs I had had in my life, it really wasn’t that bad. But mostly it was that old chestnut – money. That was why I kept showing up each day and giving it my best shot. I like having nice things; I like being able to pay my bills; I like being able to drink nice wine, buy organic vegetables, enter running races, go on holidays. You need money to do all those things. But over the last year I spent in my day job, something kept tickling away at me, something that said there had to be another way. Lots of people I know earn a living as a freelance writer. Why couldn’t I do it too?
Well, because you’re not good enough, was my inner critic’s instant response.
There were also practicalities to consider. But I could deal with the money issue – having left behind that king’s ransom of rent that we were paying in Pimlico each month for a much cheaper life in the country, there was no longer a need to earn a colossal amount of money merely to stay alive – and I certainly wasn’t afraid of hard work.
But it was more than that. It went beyond practicalities. All my life I had been doing the same thing - taking jobs because they had come along, not because I had particularly wanted them. Staying in employment where I wasn’t particularly happy because of the security, the money. All the while, every year was passing faster than the last. Was I ever going to take a leap of faith and just do it?! If I didn't do it now, when was I going to?
So I slowly started putting it out there. I tried to strike a deal with the universe. I decided I would show up and do the work, and then maybe things would start happening. I started giving my novel and blog everything I had in my time outside of the day job. I wrote on the train, on my lunch break, in the evenings and weekends. I felt like I had two full time jobs. I just never stopped. And then things started happening.
I finished the first draft of my book, and the pride and sense of achievement I felt in having completed something raised my spirits and gave me so much hope.
I gave this blog a bit more attention, and found that my efforts were reciprocated tenfold by both my lovely readers and by the media. The Cosmo Blog Awards was a huge, huge sign that I needed to start taking myself and my work, my true work, a lot more seriously than I had been. I needed to lift my game. But I wanted to lift my game. Winning that award was incredibly validating, I don’t really have the words for it. The real me, the me I want to be all the time but felt I had to put away for the day job, was celebrated and acknowledged in a very public way. It gave me a jolt of confidence that well, yes, maybe I could approach magazines I would like to write for and see if they would be interested. Maybe I could approach some agents about the book. What was stopping me? The “you’re not good enough” voice was met with a very strong “well, Cosmo think I’m good enough! And the people who voted for me think I’m good enough!” chorus back. I was excited. Something had shifted in me.
So at that point I knew deep down that I couldn’t continue to work full time in my day job. Not when life outside of it was so exciting and validating. And that was a scary prospect. Was all this success I was experiencing all in my head?! Would I jinx it if I chucked it all in and gave my dream a shot? I didn't know. What I was hoping for was a peaceful long break in Australia, that had already been planned and approved for the best part of a year, where I could have a rest and some space and regain a lot of the mental energy I’d lost in the last six months, and then come back to the UK with some clarity and hopefully cut my hours back to part time while I tried to make a go of things.
Things didn’t quite work out that way.
And the reason they didn’t is because I think the universe had had enough of me saying “one day”, or doing things on a part time basis. This isn’t a part time calling.
So it pulled the rug out from under my feet, and took my safety net away, so that I would have no choice but to give my dream everything I have.
There are no guarantees in life. And the truth is security is such a façade. If your livelihood is in the hands of other people, it can be taken away from you at any time. Life as you know it can be over in a matter of minutes. I’ve learned, once again in a very painful way, that some of the things that we think of as certainties in our lives very often are not. It’s why they fall apart when things get tough, because their foundations are so flimsy or because you know, in your heart of hearts, that something is not right. Perhaps it never was.
Three days before it happened, on a Sunday night in November, I was sitting with a beer to numb the whole “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow” feeling and Tom and I were sharing a bag of crisps. I noticed on the packet it said “enter your special code" to win a certain amount of money. It wasn’t a fortune, but I certainly wouldn’t turn it away. I said to Tom, “actually, that’s all I’d need – that would keep us going for a little while so I could finish the book, send it somewhere and get myself started. Let’s get online and see if we’ve won!”
But alas, no, we hadn’t. Oh well. I couldn’t expect my escape to be handed to me, could I? I set the alarm for the morning and went to bed, steeling myself for another week.
Three days later, on an ordinary Wednesday morning, I was called into a room at the office in London, with my manager, the director of the division, and the head of HR. They told me that they were restructuring the department and making my job, and four other jobs, redundant. Despite everything, I really hadn’t seen this coming and I was so shocked. I barely said anything. They handed me a pack to read over and told me I could go home if I wanted to take it all in.
Like a robot, I grabbed my coat and bag and walked, numb, to Marylebone station and took the first train home. I didn’t even change my shoes, like I normally do, and walked the whole way in my heels. I didn’t notice the pain in my feet. I just kept replaying those horrible ten minutes over and over in my head. There was part of me that wanted to pop into Villandry for champagne because there was a bubbling sense of excitement and relief. This is what I wanted. I was out of there. The decision had been made for me.
But it felt wrong to celebrate because despite the elation I also felt incredibly angry and rejected and ashamed. I felt like I had failed, somehow. I should have worked harder. I must have done something wrong. Why were they keeping other people, and not me? Being made redundant doesn't happen to people like me, I snobbishly thought. It was such a horrible, deflating moment. After all those years, what had been the point of it all? Why couldn't I have been the one to say it was time to move on? The illusion that I had been in control of the situation all along, which of course I hadn't been, was shattered.
Then I looked at the package. Having been in the job for as long as I had, I was entitled to a payout. I was expecting it to be a month’s salary, if I was lucky.
The figure was what had been on that crisp packet.
I believe I might have had a little psychic shiver.
That was when I thought, oh my. I can actually give this a shot.
The next four weeks were, to put it politely, a nightmare. If you've ever been in this situation, you'll know that it changes everything. The redundancy is the pink elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. It's uncomfortable, and somewhat soul destroying, because you feel guilty, like you've done something wrong, and you should just shuffle out quietly. It was not the lead up I wanted to my first trip home in over two years. I was constantly on edge. Thankfully my family and close friends knew what had happened and I could talk to them. But it took a long time for it to sink in, that it was over, and I would be free.
Finally the last day was over and done with, and there was no time to mope around and feel depressed about it, because about eight hours later we hopped on a plane to Australia. I actually felt quite lucky that I was able to literally put the biggest amount of space between myself and what had happened, so that I could perhaps finally take it in, unwind, let the dust settle. After nearly six weeks away, I returned to the UK and to a profoundly changed life.
And I’m loving it, I have to say. One of my favourite writers, Natalie Goldberg, said that freedom is knowing who you are, what you were put on this earth to do, and then getting on with doing it. That is my life right now, and I have never felt so free.
I have to watch the pennies far more than I ever have in my life; but I finally understand what it means to earn a living, rather than show up passively for an office job each day. I have to forgo a lot of luxuries from my old life, but it's quite empowering to only buy what I need. I have to be 100% completely motivated because the buck stops with me – there is no HR department, people above me or red tape bureaucracy to hide behind - but I’m no longer answerable to anyone but myself. I am giving my dream a shot. If in six months time the money has run out and I have not got anywhere, then I’ll re-evaluate. But I’ll be damned if I go another year, another precious year, without trying. I want to be able to look back on my life and think that even if I didn’t get there, at least I tried. I stopped making excuses, I stopped giving in to fear, and I tried.
As I’ve discovered, if you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you. (thanks for that little gem, Nigel Marsh!)
Finally getting to live my dream is more wonderful than I dared to hope. Yes, the luxuries have been curtailed but every day I get to wake up and do exactly what I want to do. I have 100% control over my time. I’m not tired, exhausted, ill, or resentful of my time being hacked away at any more. It is wonderful.
That’s not to say this time hasn’t been challenging, because it has. This is the hardest thing I've ever done. People often tell me that I’m brave. And perhaps I am. But the truth is, being brave has usually been the only choice I’ve had, and never more so in this case. I didn't appreciate how much courage you need to live this kind of life. No one is going to put a salary into your bank account for following your heart….well, not straight away. It takes time for that cheque to clear. And what do you do in the meantime? You still have to eat, you still need a roof over your head, and the Big Bad Bills still need to be paid.
There has been a lot of adjustment, for me and for Tom, and there have been days where I haven’t coped very well with this new life at all. There is still some residual shame and sadness over things ending at my job the way they did; despite everything it isn’t how I would have chosen to leave. I know the odds are stacked against me, with the economy being what it is. There are days where I wonder whether I’m really up to this and will I ever, ever be good enough. I know it's normal to have doubts and that this is a natural period of transition. The good days have far outweighed the bad ones. But, at the core of it all, I'm still a bit scared.
I'm scared that I'm finally going to give this big lifelong dream of mine a shot and that I'll screw it up somehow. That I will give everything I have and it may not be enough. That the money won't last as long as I think it will, and I'll be sucked back in to a 9-5 life just to keep the wolf from the door. That I should be using the payout more "wisely" rather than being so foolish as to use it to get my writing career off the ground. But I hear another voice in the midst of all this chaos, a voice that tells me that this is all happening as it was meant to happen and if I am brave enough to do this, the rewards will be greater than I can possibly imagine.
I am on my path. That I know for sure.
I've needed to write this post for ages, and I'm glad I finally have. And I'm glad now you know. Life has, once again, thrown me another curveball which is actually a key to a new, exciting, fulfilling life - if I'm brave enough to put it in the door and open it.
I don’t know if this gamble will pay off, but you know what? I’m ready to find out. It’s time. It’s time for me to put all I’ve learned over the last seven years into practice. When your safety net is taken away, for better or for worse, the only choice you have is to fly.
Too many of us are “sitting on the couch” in our lives, and I don’t just mean that literally. When it comes to my career, I have been on the couch from day dot. I’ve always taken jobs either because they were offered to me, or because I needed the money. I realise I'm not unusual in that respect. I’ve floated through my working life - working hard, certainly, but never feeling fully engaged in or passionate about what I was doing. I have always been waiting for my “real” work to start.
But when you have a full time job to pay the bills, your other work often gets forgotten about if you don’t make it a priority with the time that you do have. It took me years to finally give my writing the time and attention it deserved. Mostly because I was fed up with being an all talk and no action kind of person when it came to what I wanted most out of life. I’d lost weight, got fit, moved to the other side of the world and started my life again from scratch, trained for and ran a bloody marathon….but do you think I could get off my arse and give my dream of being a writer a shot? No. And I was tired of that. It was always the same old excuses and even I didn’t believe them any more.
Being made redundant was another stepping on the scales moment. I knew what I had to do and if I wanted it badly enough I’d find a way. That was what it came down to; either I wanted this, or I didn’t. Either way, it was my choice what happened next.
Now, when I talk about my novel, I actually have a full manuscript that I can show people, not just 40 pages of some random idea I had in 2007.
Now, I have worked with a business coach. I have set goals. I have had the courage to start approaching agents, and finally, finally wrote a synopsis of my book! And I have started aligning myself better so that the things I want and need can start happening.
I'm proud and grateful that I spent the past few years nurturing and building my creative life and art practice so that it was ready for me to take the leap when the net appeared. I'm proud that I never gave up. I'm proud that I've turned something that had the potential to be so negative (I know not everyone in this situation is so lucky) into something so positive and exciting. Because this isn't a dress rehearsal. Life is too short. I'm just going to go for it, because I've waited and hesitated long enough.
Before all of this, if you had asked me whether I was in the driver’s seat of my life, I would have answered yes, of course. I lost weight! I got fit! I ran a marathon! But in reality, when it came to my career and my destiny, I wasn't in the driver's seat - hell, I didn't even have a car. I was waiting at a bus stop.
Now, I’m in the driver’s seat. Well and truly.
And I'm going to make sure that being made redundant is the best damn thing that ever happened to me. In a way, it already has been.
Watch this space :)