Working Girl

I was going to be an accountant, you know. I only received minimal careers advice at school, but I knew that I liked words and numbers; however, I presumed that I’d never make it as a writer so, accountancy it was.

Unfortunately, no-one had pointed out to me that I would make a terrible, terrible accountant. I’m too disorganised, too distractible; it would have been an awful fit for me. This isn’t to knock accountancy in any way; it’s an important profession. Indeed, I’m profoundly grateful that my own amazing accountant chose it as her own career path as, before I started using her, I struggled to complete my tax returns. The last seven words of that previous sentence tell you that I really would have been a disastrous accountant. Happily, I slipped sideways into a career in radio, and accountancy was spared the horror of my services.

Anyway, my own crappy career choices mean that I’m keen to help others avoid similar pitfalls. So I’m taking part in my daughter’s school’s career fair this morning; they’ve asked me to talk about my glittering* career as a book editor and copywriter.

Well, it turns out that very few kids actually want to talk to me (note to self: everyone else has corporate banners and freebies to give away. I have nothing except a few copies of my books; no teenager wants to read them, which is fair enough). So, I have plenty of time to ruminate on my working life and give you some career advice instead.

I mean, you probably don’t need any career advice. Certainly not from me. If you were here, you’d also be queuing for a free gonk from the paramedic—or a go on the policeman’s handcuffs—and giving a wide berth to my pathetic trestle table with its hastily scribbled sign. I don’t blame you; I’m hoping to score a free gonk myself. But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned about work:

1) Do a job that you love—or at the very least, that you care about—or it will rot your soul.

Having done many jobs that I adored—and a few that made me dread getting up in the morning—I know I do my best work when I’m happy and motivated. Which leads me onto:

2) The money isn’t worth your health or your sanity.

If you suspect your job’s making you ill—whether physically or mentally—then you need to change something. At the least, talk to your boss about how the issues and what you can do about them. I’m lucky that most of my jobs have been brilliant, but I had a few that took their toll on my health. I quit them and didn’t regret it for a second.

3) There’s usually an open window somewhere.

I studied economics at uni, in preparation for my fabulous accountancy career. But life had other plans. I got involved in student radio, which led to some work reading travel bulletins, which led to a job in local radio. I kept thinking I’d get a proper job at some point but, 25 years on, I’m still in the media and I’ve never used that economics degree.

4) Say yes to everything that isn’t a terrible idea.

It could be an amazing opportunity; some of my most exciting jobs have come from chance conversations. But, even if it doesn’t work out, there’s always something to learn and something good that comes out of it. Even when one client stiffed me over a payment for some work I’d already completed, I was able to feel grateful (eventually); the skills I’d learned on that job opened a window for me somewhere else four years later.

5) You are not your job.

Enjoy your work, but don’t confuse it with your own value. When I had my first daughter, whenever I met anyone new, I’d usually blurt out: “I’m on maternity leave BUT I USED TO BE A RADIO PRODUCER”, as if that was the only thing that mattered.

Anyway, I’m having a lovely morning. I might have only spoken to a handful of kids who had any real interest in writing, but they were so sparky and passionate that it made doing the fair a pleasure. And if it saves one of them from an ill-fitting career in accountancy, then it’ll all be worthwhile.

*haha

Hot Mess

My friend Jane invited a bunch of us round for a house-warming supper;  she’d just moved out of her parents’ place and into her own flat, and was ever so excited about it.

She scooped us all a generous serving of dinner: some sort of brown splodge and rice.

As we hungrily raised our forks, Jane thanked us for joining her: “…and I know you won’t believe it, but this is the first time I’ve ever cooked! Bon Appetit!!”

Oh.

The rice wasn’t just undercooked, it was still raw. And I’ve still no idea what the brown splodge was actually supposed to be (tumours au gratin? braised dysentery? hot misery?)

Whatever it was, it remains the second-worst meal that I have ever eaten.*

We exchanged panicked glances over our heaped bowls. Jane beamed at us: “Are you enjoying it?”

She was one of life’s genuine sweethearts, a thoroughly lovely person. It would have been like kicking a puppy. “It’s delicious!”, we enthusiastically lied in unison.

Being a well-brought up type, I forced down every last horrifically crunchy mouthful. My friend Matthew later confessed to having tipped his bowlful into a pot-plant.

We all declined seconds. “I’m so full, I couldn’t eat another mouthful!” Well, half of that sentence was true.

I didn’t even let her make me a cup of tea after that

*There’s a chance that the creator of the third-worst meal that I’ve ever eaten will see anything I write about it, so I won’t be telling you about that one. But at some point I will tell you about the worst-ever meal that I’ve ever eaten. Because I made that one. (I’m usually a pretty good chef, honest.)