17 September 2009

on work

This is a portrait of me, done by my son about a dozen years ago. Note the grim set of the mouth and the eyebrows set in a frown (they don't really meet in the middle a la Frida Kahlo) and the dark roots where I neglected touching up my highlights. This harsh portrait sits in a prominent position as a reminder of what it means to juggle family, home and a career outside home, and the price you sometimes have to pay. Did my boy really find me such a stressed out harpie?

The Masters I completed last year - remember that? - considered the support that is available for women who want to develop their careers. It was a very practical piece of research, relevant to the job I was doing at the time. I spoke to lots of women about their aspirations, what help they received, who they turned to. Some younger women talked about their plans for having children, some with children said how their attitude to work had changed and how hard it had been coming back to work, others about the sacrifices and compromises they had made to do so. The cycle of women's working loves differs to that of men, and that women need different types of support at different times in their working lives was backed up by my reading of other research.

I now find myself at a point in the cycle that has come as rather a surprise. At a hiatus between one organisation and another, I opted to apply for what is euphemistically called voluntary early release. I was shocked to be, I offered it. When the news arrived I spent my lunchtime walking round in a daze and made my decision quickly. Here was an opportunity that I would never have again to start something new with some of the financial risk covered. I accepted the offer and felt a weight lifted. And yet, during the weeks that followed, I found myself feeling a real sense of loss and sadness, doubts about my own value and trepidation about what the future held. None of the professional advisers offered by my employer had touched on this and my work colleagues for the most part just did not get it at all.

Support came from unexpected quarters. My three month stint working in the Parks was a life saver and I have loved working there. I also went along to one of our WI coffee mornings on a day off and mentioned how I was feeling about leaving work and this small group of women offered a wealth of wise words, kindness and support, both for me and another younger woman who had lost her job in rather harsher circumstances. Those same women still check on me when I meet them. And sharing experiences with fellow blogger 60 going on 16 when we met for lunch yesterday, helped too.

So here I am. At the end of September I shall be moving on from a well paid, secure job into a new life. I look at that portrait and wonder whether I should have changed paths a long time ago. Regrets - I've had a few, but it really does not help to dwell on them. My new plan is to have no plan, to go with the flow, enjoy some of the things I don't have enough time for now, try out some new things, practice living on less money, spend some time paying back past good deeds. And make the most of the support that comes from good people until I find my groove.


Rattling On said...

For one reason or another, we have made several new starts. I think it's good for you! It certainly helps condense what's important and what, you realise, you really can live without.
It sounds like you're looking forward to the opportunity a radical change can bring about. Life will present you with something, but enjoy the free time for a while...though it's funny how that never materialises either!

60 Going On 16 said...

You will, I am sure, find it immensely liberating, and I don't just mean not having to get up so early in the morning. Give yourself time to find your own rhythm and then go with it!

Back in the early 1980s , I had to organise a press conference for feminist author, Betty Friedan, who was in the UK to promote her book, The Second Stage, which had just been published. I was going through some major changes in my life, which we talked about, and she was immensely encouraging. Before she left, she wrote in my copy of The Second Stage: 'To D.... courage and joy on the new road.' This has stayed with me ever since - and it's what I now wish you!

Kate said...

I am full of admiration.

Liz said...

Ah yes, big changes, something we've experienced ourselves recently. I'm sure you're right to not dwell on the what ifs and I admire the go with the flow attitude to this next phase. You might remember my intention at the start of this year to go where the music takes me. So, good luck, keep posting on this wonderful blog and just let the music find you.

jay said...

Well, a new start is often a wonderful gift! I hope you can capitalise on it! I'm sure you will. Sounds like you have a list of things to get started on!

I LOVE the portrait by your son - especially the dark roots! LOL! Bless him, he sees you with eyes of love, but not romance. And perhaps his budding artistic skills were not quite up to portraying to beauty that he no doubt sees in your face. ;)

Came over from 60 going on 16!

Weeping Sore said...

Your observations are worthy of your talented son's portrait. My lasting impression when I finally retired was that there are few successful women mentors these days, and that women enjoy nothing like the old boys networks. It's more likely that a successful woman in management will snub those women she outranks because she made it on her own, and so should you, dammit.
I wish you the best with your plan to move forward without a plan. Men often have unjustified confidence in their own worth, while women are more likely to have unjustified doubts. Jump!

j said...

That's a great portrait. I've always enjoyed both the portrait and your title. I think one enlightens the other- he has your sense of humor. And a deft and sure hand with a paintbrush.

Milo said...

See it as one chapter ending and another beginning. New life experiences ahead. It's too easy to tread the same flat line for years on end (I know from experience!) and change is, I am now convinced, invariably a good thing in the long-run.

Anonymous said...

sorry, c., i missed this one. it is very disconcerting. i know your pleasure in life will prevail and also make it certain that Something [FAAAAAAbulous] Will Turn Up.

emmat said...

Colleen I hadn't been over here for a while (well weeks it seems) and didn't know your news. I wish you good luck. If I can do anything, please do email me. And I LOVE the canvey island pictures x