I was inspired to write my story and support this movement firstly through respect, second through passion and thirdly through empathy. Next year I will be in my 30s and can say I finally think I've got my work life figured out. At least the first phase of it. I plan on having at least four working lives spanning from my current role, ruling the world, owning a fully sustainable cafe/bed and breakfast/farm and working with the elderly. With all that to fit in thank goodness I'm at least on the starting blocks now because I feel like I lost a good few years somewhere along the line. I'm writing this to those of you out there that are overwhelmed and being told too many different opinions from too many different faces.
My memory is random; facts, figures, names, faces, dates, outfits/meal choices and the weather is always pretty accurate. However, some of the more defining moments I look back on not only seem vague and blurry, but they feel like it happened to a completely different person. That is because I cannot believe the person I am now was in the same body as the one 10 years ago, the upset and frustration are still with me today at times but I try not to look back too much and regret anything. Sitting here writing this, I would tell my 18-21 year old self what I am about to tell you...this is my story:
18 years old: I wanted take some Art/Textiles foundation courses to get into that world and see where it would take me. I think because I wasn't certain on what my exact plan was, I was advised to take something academic to 'fall back' on; clearly anything creative wasn't a stable enough option.
I was told I should really (had to) go to University even though I had no interest in any one academic subject or direction, it was sold to me as for the 'experience'. With the nudge from family, we chose a subject that was the least hated I was currently studying at A-level and applied to towns not too far from home but far enough for a change. Sussex it was. Back then it was the more academically superior choice to Brighton so I was told and the vibe of the town was enough to not make me dread staying in further education for the next 3 years taking BA Psychology.
September 2004: Started University / October 2004: Wanted to leave University / December 2004: Suggested leaving University (not well received).
January 2005 - Spring 2006*: Found unsuitable diversion from academic life and just about made it to what little contact hours I had. I sat in most lectures and seminars wondering what on earth I was doing there and why and how everyone else seemed so inspired about the chosen subject of the day.
*within this time I met someone and in a mess of hormone soup and blind love was begged to stay at the University when I failed the compulsory module for Psychology at the end of year 1. I had to transfer onto another social science so an on campus careers advisor guided me towards Anthropolgy; it was my only option unless I wanted to start over or leave the institution.
June 2006: Relationship over and got my own head back...which FYI was still against being in academic study. I suggested to/begged my parents to be able to defer my third year, to take some time to figure out what I really wanted as I felt like I was wasting time and money (this was not well received). I remember phrases like "well you've come this far", "you have to have a degree to get a decent job", "what do you want to do Sarah, go and make jewellery out of shells on the beach or something? That is not a career".
Summer 2006 - June 2007: Made it through the final year without a single effort or care for my dissertation as a result of meeting a great, if not totally distracting bunch of people. They opened my mind and my flooded my heart and I felt like I had found my family; they all still hold a special place in me now. I worked throughout my third year in a part-time job and agreed to paying hours to fund my own choice of lifestyle rather than revision. I finished with a 2:2. I knew I could have been capable of much more but this grade was a true reflection of what effort was put in from someone who was completely detached from University life and the course itself. I could only name you one girl that was on my course but not one lecturer. It wasn't my life.
Summer 2007 (Graduated): I stayed down in Brighton living in a relieved and care-free world. I started different jobs in London as they paid better and tried my hand at PR through a friend of my sister. I had a terrible experience and hated the contrived world it was. Worried I wasn't suited for the only 'creative' industry that was deemed ambitious enough, I fell into what I knew (from my parents careers), and what paid really well; Temp work in the Finance world.
Autumn 2007 - March 2008: I started a role doing data entry in the City....most days spent listening to playlists I'd made to remind me of Brighton days whilst entering nonsense data into a glaring blue screen. This boredom was only to be relieved by meeting my Mum for lunch; having a sandwich on the steps in Broadgate circle.
February 2008 - June 2008: Becoming further divorced from my creative side and not sure what I wanted or where I could go I thought travel would be a good idea. I took a TEFL course in Thailand for a month then continued travel through Laos, Cambodia, Singapore in the typical bid to find myself. Note to all: travelling does not help you discover who you are if you leave in the mindset I did, it's either a distraction or just a great holiday. I'd also advise to go with a friend...but choose wisely.
Summer 2008 - January 2010: And so the treadmill came. Back to Finance, back to temping. This eventually progressed to contract work when RBS and ABN-Amro bank were merging. Now my lunch hours were spent shopping for frivolous items and me taking my Mum to lunch in actual restaurants with actual chairs. I was 24 years old and renting a flat in Bethnal Green for £1500, of which I paid 3/4 because I wanted to help my friends who were doing what I wanted and should have been doing myself. They were just that bit ahead of me in figuring out their own path and I wanted that security and inspiration of living with them. One was studying acting and the other to be a commercial diver. They had done the years of working in bars/call centres and they had made the jump to realising their passions. In hindsight I guess I was living vicariously but I eventually pulled myself together to get out of my own rut. We can all be guilty of papering over cracks and not really facing up to our own truths, I wish all of you the strength to realise this in yourself.
I hated every aspect of the job I was in, the world I was surrounded by, the routine of the day. I spent the days hiding behind a computer screen wondering when someone would figure out how little I knew about what non-role I had. Arranging conference calls to look proactive and promise meeting minutes and flow charts but not being about to relate to any of it.
Things were pretty low at times, my memory has been kind to me in this sense by being slack but I sometimes get reminded by my good friend who was there for me throughout and picked me up everytime I needed it. Thankfully we can laugh at it now. I applied for many jobs I thought I wanted, options I was told to consider, throughout this time, to no avail. My time at the bank will only be fondly thought of when I think of one man; a fatherly figure who made me realise this was not the world for me. He was having his pre-retirement dreams about wanting to buy a place abroad, spend time with family and get out of the rat race. He was very Senior, successful, respected, knowledgeable, exhausted, frustrated, burned out. I didn't want that life for myself. Things had to change.
I don't remember having a lightening bolt, or any particular inspiration about what I wanted to do, I just knew that I was lost and I needed to do something creative, follow my passions and be in a practical job. I got in a mental time machine back to my hopeful 17 year old self and applied to London College of Fashion to study Textiles. They laughed me out of the interview because I had done nothing towards this choice in the last 5 years to prove my worth, my interest or my skills in this area. This was a cold hard slap in the face of realising I had neglected my dreams; my hope and confidence was in tatters.
I looked to friends for advice and reflection as I had lost a sense of myself. Breaking things down, I was good with people, had a caring nature and was a tactile giving person and concluded I could try the world of health and wellbeing. I had always been put off embarking on this career as I was led to believe it wasn't high achieving enough, not a respectable profession but it was a doorway that was open to me now.
Had I been under 19 years old the courses would have been free, luckily this didn't deter me. I was fortunate to have earned the money I did to be able to start over completely and enrolled in a Beauty Therapy course whilst taking a job as a sales assistant to pay my own way.
January 2010 May 2011 - I completed level 2 and 3 NVQ Beauty Therapy. Within this time I moved back in with my parents / moved back to a room in London and kept two part-time jobs going, all whilst studying. I was made redundant from one of the part-time jobs as they wanted committed full-time staff only so things weren't all smooth sailing and if truth be told, at this point I still wasn't sure I'd made the right decision for my future.
May 2011 - September 2011: I completed my level 3 NVQ and took my first job in the industry that made these qualifications worth it. A 5* hotel employed me as a part-time front of house for their newly refurbished Spa. I quickly progressed to become a therapist and proved myself well but I did not fit into the spa/beauty environment. Worried I wasn't committing myself enough to the investment I had made in trying to forge a new career I looked for a full-time position to really give it my all.
September 2011 - 2013: My first full-time Spa position; another 5* hotel. Some ups, some downs, a lot of self-discovery.
July 2013. 27 years old. I started the career I am in today. I actually hate that word. I never use it. A chosen pursuit it supposedly means. I don't feel that way about what I do, I work freely and fluidly, not after dogged ambition and need. I feel that what I do is an enhancement to my life, it complements my own belief system and it inspires me every single day.
And so here I am, now 29 years old. A qualified ITEC Aromatherapist (2014), a Business Developer, a Treatment Trainer, a Bespoke Product Maker, a no.3 in a small niche skincare brand that makes and uses Organic skincare products and provides treatments from the perspective of health, not beauty. Hello world.
There has not been one day in two years of working here that I have felt like I haven't wanted to be there, like I'm not making a difference; to myself, or my clients. Of course there are the usual working life frustrations but the positives are strong. I am grateful for that, at last. My work is hugely rewarding and I believe everyone needs to feel that level of satisfaction and appreciation, it verifies us as interactive human beings.
The dynamics of society have changed so that we shouldn't just work to live, we have to live through work. Our world is bigger than ever in terms of the opportunities at our fingertips but if we are narrow minded and let others persuasions and opinions overshadow us, we shrink that vast space into a crushing claustrophobic bubble. Burst it. We need to fuse our passions, interests and inspirations into our working life to get the right balance and feel fulfilled. Do what you are doing until you don't enjoy it anymore but always give everything 100% and learn from it.
My advice?: really listen to your heart and your mind, they know you, they are you and develop yourself before you develop a career prospect. Be strong and do what you want, not what you think you should or someone else advises. If it doesn't work out you have time, make every step count towards finding the right stream for you, don't get caught up in a flood. Everyone should take a GAP year. Take advantage of free education in your youth, try new things.
If you can decide what sort of lifestyle you want, not what job, you could research the sort of companies that represents you, the role will follow and may even lead you into further education and expanding your skill set beyond a University degree. Don't lose faith in your interests, no matter how under appreciated they are by others; find your people. We live in such a fortunate world where you can earn money by doing pretty much anything. So if like I did, you want to make jewellery on a beach for a living, go and do it, and be the best at it, no-one should take that away from you.