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.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my step-kids. It’s just that I don’t want to call them my step-kids.
There’s something distant about that “step”, something that I really don’t like. That “step” implies that a degree of disconnect, a lessening of love. That “step” says, they’re only my partner’s kids, they’re not mine.
Wading back into the dating world, as a single mum, I realised that most prospective suitors would probably also have children. But I was concerned, remembering stories from acquaintances of how they could barely stand their partner’s kids. What if I wound up in that situation?
And then, a mate and I surprised ourselves by falling in love. I knew he had kids; he’d often shown me pictures of them, told me how great they were, how proud he was of them. I used to look at those pictures, nodding politely; never imaging I’d ever meet them, let alone that I’d love them too one day.
I remember the day I finally met them. Struck by that sweetness, the blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar, making them so easy to love. He’s charming like his dad, with his nick of mischief too, and an innate confidence that’s all his own. She’s got her father’s strange, endearing mix of impulse and caution, twisted in her own sense of humour.
Love is a funny thing; there is never quite enough time for everything, but there is always enough love for everyone. Suddenly I didn’t just have a boyfriend, I also had two bonus kids. They weren’t his children anymore, they were ours.
We have an understanding. When we’re out, people often say, “Does your daughter want…?”, “Doesn’t your son like…?” And we don’t correct them. Because it might not be factually accurate, but it’s certainly good enough for us.
I say to them, you know I’m not your mother, I’m not trying to be your mother, you have a wonderful mother already. But I love you like a mother does. I love you like a mother does.
This is terribly shallow of me, and I’m still quite ashamed of myself.
I went on a date with a chap who may well have been very nice. Or perhaps he wasn’t. I genuinely have no idea.
I couldn’t concentrate on a word he said, all evening, because I was too transfixed by the enormous pulsating boil next to his nose.
Seriously, I think it had hypnotic powers as I couldn’t look away from it all night. If I close my eyes, I can still picture its magnificent glory. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I do remember that I named the pustule “Augustus The Majestic”.
I’m very sorry, Mr Whoever-You-Were. I hope you found someone more deserving of your company than me.
I was talking to a darling friend who has depression. We said what a shame it is that some people don’t understand mental illness, or are scared of it. Because it’s hard enough when you’re struggling, let alone when you’re too scared to talk in case you’re judged.
So, let’s talk.
I know a little, just a little, of the bleakness of depression, having staggered through the dark for a year or so after my father died. Life lost its colour. And it wasn’t that I felt bad, it’s more that I didn’t feel anything. And, eventually, I just didn’t want to be alive any more.
Realising that something was desperately wrong, I did try and talk about it, but I chose the wrong person to talk to. This person told me to pull myself together, to get on with it, that I’d been sad enough for long enough.
Unfortunately, telling someone who’s depressed to pull themselves together is as helpful as telling someone with two broken arms to do a press-up. Hearing that I apparently wasn’t depressed—merely “selfish”—was enough to put me off seeking help anywhere else, which is a shame as I’d probably have recovered sooner with support.
But I did get better, for which I am profoundly grateful. As I say, I know a little of depression, so have nothing but deep respect for my friends who live with it as part of their everyday lives.
So. Mental illness. It’s just illness. Let’s be kind to each other, life’s hard enough as it is. Much love. Xxxx
I popped into my mate’s workplace, and he introduced me to his colleague Rob. I recognised Rob instantly, but apparently he didn’t remember me:
Rob: “Hey there, nice to meet you.”
Me: “Ah, Rob. You don’t recognise me, do you?”
Rob: (somewhat nervously) “Err, sorry, could you remind me?”
Me: “Sure! Two years ago, we had a blind date. We went to see Blur together. I don’t think you were very impressed with me because, three songs into the gig, you told me that didn’t feel well and had to go home. I never heard from you again. Remember me now?”
Rob: “Oh god.”
Me: “It’s been lovely catching up with you again!”
Many years ago, I had a rather intense friendship with a male friend. There was never, ever anything sexual in it (he was gay, and I’m definitely not male) but it was such an intense friendship that it bordered on the weird.
One night, round at his, he asked me if I wanted to check out a chatroom (it was 1998, entertainment options were limited in Hartlepool).
I’ll try pretty much anything once*, so cheerfully agreed.
He created a new profile for me, said he’d found someone for me to chat to, and gave me the keyboard.
Turns out, it was a cybersex chatroom.
He sat behind me as I typed. At first, it was all giggly good fun, but then I started feeling rather guilty. The chap I was talking to was under the mistaken impression that he was talking to a horny bloke—thanks to the profile my friend had created for me—and it seemed quite unfair to keep leading the poor guy on. Plus, I felt rather awkward answering questions about my fictional penis. So I turned around to tell my mate I’d had enough…
…only to realise that he was happily… err… ahhh… how shall I put it?… entertaining himself.
He had his eyes closed in ecstasy, so I slipped out of the room as quietly as I could. Then I slipped out of the flat—and Hartlepool—as fast as I could.
Neither of us either mentioned it again.
*Having said that, I’ve never eaten KFC. Not for snob reasons, I’m just not that keen on chicken.