It was the 5th restructuring at work in a decade. My typical approach had been to re-apply for a new role, usually a slightly bigger version of my existing role and crack on. After a couple of questions and answers about the new roles on offer, I went home and wrote out three pros and cons lists. One for a demotion, one for a promotion and one, for as ABBA would say, to ‘take a chance on me’. This time, the list that excited me the most was the ABBA list. A lightbulb had been switched on. My instincts kicked in and a few days later I explained to my stunned bosses that I would not be applying for the roles available in the new structure. I had got huge amounts of satisfaction from my job over the years. It was an absolutely massive part of my identity. And that was part of the problem. I fear it had become my only identity.
I started work in the late 90s when presenteeism was rife. I think I started just by trying to fit in. But before long I started turning down family engagements and going to social invitations as I ‘had to work’. The things that sustained me during my youth, like writing, art, music were all packed away into a box of things I used to do. Over the years, working cultures changed and presenteeism quite rightly got kicked in to touch along the way, exposing my working pattern as more of a choice than a requirement. Somewhere along the line, I became a workaholic, and here was my chance to break the habit.
I had no plan other than to take some time off. I joined a networking group. I joined an art class. I took several short breaks. I volunteered with Oxfam Glastonbury and Latitude festivals. I volunteered with the Brownies, Scouts, Tax Aid, and Teenage Cancer Trust. I was always busy.
The biggest and most surprising challenge I set myself was in signing up to perform at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. As I completed the application form Defying Gravity came on my shuffling playlist, so I called it ‘Fly’. I was trusting my instincts and leaping. I just had to write the show!
Five months later, at the age of 43, I had written, rehearsed, promoted and performed a sold-out show, collecting a decent review along the way. As part of this adventure, I met other ‘proper’ actors and writers, who suggested I look at going to spoken word events, to get more performance experience. This opened up the most wonderful world to me and I now regularly write poetry and short stories for the joy of sharing them at spoken word events. I continue to volunteer and will be going back to Glastonbury with Oxfam in 2020. I have met more people outside of work in these last 12 months than I think I met in the last 20 years. I have much more to my identity and variety in my life from day than ever before.
I started a part-time role in back in tax shortly after my show, and have created a consultancy business for tax services. I’m one year in to my new lifestyle and every day I feel more and more like the true me. I compared it recently to being a school child where you are encouraged to tackle many subjects in a day, you don’t just have to be or do one thing. It is a wonderful feeling to get back and I am truly grateful for it.