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.