What do you want to do when you grow up?
Well, here goes, I’m sat at my laptop, freshly brewed coffee beside me to cheer me on, loosing my blogging virginity in front of you all. I feel excited, nervous and acutely self aware. I’m hoping that when I look back to this first ever blog post in years to come, that it will seem somehow profound and momentous. I’m hoping, you see, to find my “thing” and potentially more than that… maybe even my “calling”. You know, that somewhat elusive dream I’ve heard people talking about “I feel so lucky to do what I love and make money from it too”. Thing is, I believe them and wouldn’t mind finding it for myself. Something which is sustainable, fulfilling, and although hard work, energising. But until that day comes (or doesn’t) today is just another normal, bland-ish, pour-another-coffee kind of a day. Another day where I am happy to try try something new, push on a few doors and see where it leads me.
I’m older and wiser embarking on this blogging adventure and although I don’t know how this will pan out, I’m excited to find out. I’m way over being too scared to take a step for fear of making mistakes or failing. That ship sailed a long time ago; particularly when you see how valuable those failings and mistakes can be if you allow them to be. Hopefully you will join me for the ride and some of my words, stories and experiences will be ones you can relate to, making you feel a little more normal in life’s ebbs and flows.
Having put my hand to several personal work projects over the years, some which didn’t last long and others which just didn’t take off, I’m not naive about the need for hard graft- no matter if you are doing your passion/ dream, or not. I’ll be honest in admitting though that I am a little tired of learning the hard way, picking myself back up, dusting myself off and getting back on the horse (while simultaneously also changing tact, direction and focus… again).
Aside from “success” (or lack thereof) I am also aware how much of an acrobat I’ve needed to be flexibility-wise, to be able to work at all. Particularly since having the kids and living far away from family I’ve either had to forego opportunities or become a logistical contortionist to be able to juggle it all and make it happen. A few years ago I was excited to embark upon making and selling cake pops (which were doing really well). I had done my food safety certificate, got all the materials I needed, notified HMRC, priced it all up, got the Facebook page up, costings sorted, FSA inspection and got my method of making and packaging them down to a fine art. I put the kids to bed and then start baking and making, often getting to bed at 2am. It’s only once you do this for a few months that you realise its toll on you and that realistically it isn’t sustainable. After an already long day with a six month old and 3 year old at the time, you can imagine how impractical that schedule was (making cakes at the end of that day and a 2am bedtime). So I decided to stop doing the cake pops. I knew that perhaps when the kids were in school (or a little older) that I could take it up again if I decided to, but at the time that was a long way off. There are many other examples I could give, but I’m sure you get the picture.
I exhausted myself regularly revisiting different ways I could make any sort of work happen, while mindful of the children and our circumstances. I explored many different, clever ideas in an endeavour to find a solution that worked to make it more feasible. In the end I learnt how to just accept and come to terms with it, having to put some things on pause. One of the best lessons I learnt to be honest.
It’s not just the industrious part of me which created a strong pulling to find ways of earning money using my skills (even as a 13 year old I was a little entrepreneur selling homemade chocolates in school). It was also having gone to school, college and university which added to that drive. To not really use any of my further education in a traditional career-type job and not having any outlet for my natural inclinations, made for a conflicting time. Finally though, I have a really good balance of how to view and think about this dynamic.
My family have always come first but I never fully managed to switch that little industrious button at the back of my brain off. It’s part of me, it’s natural, it’s useful. I had to learn how to balance and pause that tug for my own sanity though. Now that both my kids are in school this feels like the sensible time to try again with my little ventures- although I never really fully stopped (I just became more relaxed about it, how it looked, how ‘successful’ it was, and how long it lasted).
I have done employed work in all manner of work sectors before the kids. Everything from financial clerical work to coffee shops. As for self employed work, that has been equally as varied and numerous: making cakes and cake pops, cleaning houses, selling stuff on Ebay, EFL teaching, nails, hair and make up, and selling for several direct sales companies. I even had my own wedding boutique for over a year on the high street.
Like all things in life, all these previous endeavours have been invaluable and have taught me so much. Things I’d never have learnt had I not rolled up my sleeves and gotten stuck in. They are all projects I’m proud of and I’m proud of myself too for being willing to try a different looking work style/ work life and giving so many varied things a go. All these experiences have in turn enabled me to not only more clearly consider my own subsequent projects, but also in helping other people in their businesses. On a couple of occasions I was able to sit down with a friend and help them navigate some fairly significant business decisions. This was only possible because of the vast and varied experiences I had to draw off of.
Currently I am employed as a Food Technician for the food classes in a secondary school. I love this job and how it encompasses so many of my passions and makes use of a variety of my skills. I’m perfect for this job and equally the job is perfect for me. It’s term time only, part time… the Holy Grail of jobs!
There’s one tiny problem though, I’m totally and utterly, perpetually exhausted. I feel insane to be feeling this way too as I’m “only” part time and I often wonder (and even shyly ask directly) how my full time colleagues, other friends and neighbours do it. How do they manage it? What is their secret? Why are they able to do it all? What is it about how they have set up their life that makes it work for them? As with many new things in life there was an adjustment phase after starting my job. Sensibly I worked hard to streamline day-to-day tasks in an attempt to be successful and more likely to get it all done. Although those changes definitely helped, it’s hard living to such a tight, highly controlled structure. Soon those structures which were intended to help, instead began suffocating me. I was overwhelmed. I felt pathetic struggling to juggle things, like I wasn’t really entitled to find it hard because I only work 20 hours a week, at a job I love and am good at- I mean I’m totally blessed!
When times are tough I yearn to silence my feelings, anxiety, panic and brain. Just turn it off and numbly walk along. Surely that would be easier than feeling so much, so strongly, so often. Instead though, the feelings invade and cripple. They are not ignore-able, which in turn creates feelings of failure. Not too helpful, I’m sure you will agree. Deep gratitude and appreciation doesn’t dissolve the tugging panic and guilt. Therefore addressing, managing and taking my mental health seriously is called for .
So I did just that. I was booked off work for two weeks recently by the doctor. I found that step really hard to do. I was worried that people would judge me and question me, or have something unhelpful to say. I was terrified how that in turn would affect me. But I did it. Embarrassed and scared, I did it. The amount of anxiety that was created in taking those initial steps (of calling into work) was significant. Overwhelming to the point I wondered if it was just easier to continue going to work. Although I wasn’t expecting people to understand or even be respectful, all the people who I did have contact with were really kind & appropriate. I’m so grateful for that and it really helped as an external alleviation.
With just opening up a little about my reality to people, I have realised that many people feel this way to one degree or another. Sometimes it’s just a period of life, other times its a day of struggling with those sickening feelings. Isn’t it amazing though, how much alleviation comes from not feeling alone? It’s okay to find it hard. As soon as I start to crack and open up about it, almost without fail the person looking on identifies with me in an astoundingly similar way, and will often share a story I can totally relate to in a deep, warts-and-all, sincere way! Furthermore, the number of times that we end up laughing about our melt downs is refreshing. A breath can be drawn thanks to the relief that relating brings.
I can measure the improvement in myself at the moment through the reduced incidence of breathlessness, chest pains and heart palpitations (from anxiety), along with fewer outbursts of tears and frustration. Having taken the time off work, while the kids were at school eventually gave me the time to stop, take stock, clarify, quieten, and have space. It gave my brain a rest. I’m looking forward to going back to work. I feel more balanced and so proud to do what I do.
The two weeks I was booked off was a gift of time to reflect. It was so obvious (when talking to the doc about the past few months and years) why I was/ am so fatigued. Not only had I started my first employed job since having the kids, learning to juggle work and home life, but we have also recently relocated. We are still reeling from selling and buying houses, packing up and moving house (for the 10th time I might add) and unpacking. New school for the kids, new job for my husband, changing addresses and all that goes with the territory. We are still very much in the throws of unpacking boxes, getting wardrobes and curtains up, trying on top of it all to set up home to be able to live more of a day-to-day life. So yeah, inevitably these things have an impact. It’s our body’s way to say “whoa, stop, enough!” I know I’m not alone in how these things manifest. Many of my friends have echoed the feelings I have fearfully shared with them.
Life is amazing and tough! You aren’t alone if you feel that you are just surviving, living ground hog day, or struggling with your feelings. Life throws things at us both good and bad. It’s okay to feel you are getting bashed by the waves and struggling for your next breath before getting dunked under again. Though I would encourage us all to make sensible changes to life (where and when possible) which are more conducive to health and sustainability. Eventually the storm will calm, even if for a short while.
As a Christian, I love the fact that the Bible is full of stories of people finding life tough. Instead of condemning people for their striving and wrestling with how to cope, the Bible shows us that God is my “comforter, a very present help in time of need”. Doesn’t feel like that sometimes, but at the very least I have finally stopped assuming that He is judging me when I struggle. Instead it’s quite the opposite! Reading the word of God has reassured me that I’m not alone in how I feel, I’m not the first to struggle, nor will I be the last. Reading more encourages and lifts my spirit, and gives me promises to hold onto when the storms come. Much like those times where I’ve opened up to a friend and felt a ray of light when they can relate and even laugh together about it, so too do I have this with my faith and develop this in my walk with God.
I hope knowing that brings you the relief it brings me and that this small post encourages those who read it.
So in addressing the question posed in the title of this blog “What do you want to be when you are older?” I guess my answer isn’t ‘an accountant’ or any other job title for that matter. But rather: “Dedicated to setting my life up in a healthy, balanced way, regularly reassessing that and tweaking it as needed. Not just in work-life balance and mental health but other areas like food, relationships, faith and money. Living life according to the needs of my family and convictions of my heart. To not shy away from challenges but equally not purposefully putting myself in situations which are not healthy for me.”
I’m super excited for all the future blogs I’m bursting to write. Look out for topics like transitioning on what you eat, food, meal ideas, budgeting, money saving ideas and tips, discipline, parenting, priorities, boundaries, health, christianity & faith (and how my family outworks that in our home ), personal rants and stories, and even the practicalities of this blogging malarky.
Let’s do this, I hope you will join me.
My next blog post ‘Healthy habits for healthy eating’ will be posted
next Sat (11th Aug 2018)
Written by: Nicole Allen (Coffee Cups and Cuddles)