Stay on the bus: career advice for the disillusioned

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a dinner celebrating successful women.  Well, I say ‘invited’, but really I was just riding on the coat tails of my much more successful friend (hello, Jacqueline!).  But since I’m shameless, and will go nearly anywhere if it involves wearing a fancy frock and eating canapés, I was happy to gate crash.

I really should have given it more thought. It was clear I was going to be out of my depth when I realised that I was sat with a Labour peer, the chief executive of a foreign policy think tank, a cardio-thoracic surgeon and the British ambassador to somewhere small but geo-politically important.  I could tell early on in the conversation that the ambassador was not going to be impressed by how many Ferrero Rocher I can eat in a single sitting.

Normally in these scenarios I reassure myself that whilst my career may not be stellar, I am almost certainly wearing the best shoes.  But these women were rocking some awesome footwear as well.  The only way it could have been worse was if I was sitting with some of the younger diners, who I’m pretty sure had very successful careers in the digital economy.  At least I know what ambassadors do (ish).

I began to ponder why all these smart, interesting women were so much more successful than me. And I realised, dear reader, that my husband is entirely to blame.  When I graduated from university, my (sensible) parents wanted me to get a job and stick at it, but my loving and supportive boyfriend (now husband) only ever wanted me to be happy.  So every time I stopped liking my job, I quit. And my husband reassured me that either I would find another, better job, or we would make ends meet by eating dog biscuits and burning our underwear in winter to keep warm.  Not only were our twenties a blast, but I never actually had to eat dog biscuits, and you don’t need much underwear when you’re that age anyway…

But I recently read an excellent article which put a different perspective on my youthful choices.  It explained that careers are like buses.  We all start at the bus station, and, no matter which bus you get on, the first three or four stops are always within a short radius of the station and therefore pretty similar.  It’s only as you travel on the bus longer that you get to the more unique and worthwhile destinations.  Well, that was my whole career right there: always disappointed in the first few stops and going back to the bus station to start again, when what I should have been doing is staying on the bus.  This was revelatory.  But it was also twenty years too late.

And now, not only have I missed the career bus, but it’s too late to change husbands too.  Mr B has been steadfastly supporting me, accommodating my quirks, and indulging my whims for so long that he has created a monster.  I can never run off with someone else because no one else could tolerate me.  My dastardly husband has hobbled me with his unrelenting kindness.

And what are the top tips for career success that I can pass on to my children?  Marry a bastard and stay on the damn bus!

Thanks to my fabulous friend Sarah for forwarding me the article by James Clear Stay on the Bus: The Proven Path to Doing Unique Work

Why sports day makes my heart sing

Few events in the school calendar gladden my heart like Sports Day.  My children’s school has understood that if you’re going to take a day off work, you don’t want to waste it watching other people’s children running the 800 metres (worthy though such a pastime may be). You want to be greeted by coffee and cakes, you want the sports field festooned in bunting, and most of all you want to picnic like you’ve never picnicked before.

The day before the sporting action there is always a frenzy of mummies clashing trollies in M&S as we vie for the fanciest sandwich spreads, most exotic salads, and prettiest cakes. And that’s before we’ve even started to think about what to wear.

The dress code on these occasions is a moot point.  There is always a small number of parents who seem to have misunderstood the fundamental premise of sports day, and who show up in sports kit themselves (seriously – how bizarre is that?).  And another handful who have cleverly managed to squeeze a couple of hours work in beforehand, and who arrive suited, booted and slightly frazzled. But the majority of parents plump for smart-casual.  Not so smart they look like they’re actually trying, not so casual they look like they’ll be lying on the sofa watching Come Dine With Me later.

I, dear reader, have been working tirelessly to overturn the smart-casual convention.  I have been going all-out-Ascot with fancy frocks and and stiletto heels.  This year I upped the ante with a hat.  If you don’t count the woman in a beanie, I was a thought-leader on the what-to-do-with-a-bare-head front.

And then there are the actual sports.  Let’s start with the parents.  The dads race is so popular that this year they had to have heats and a final.  Every dad is in the race.  There are men running in shorts and trainers and men running in suits and ties.  And for the twenty or thirty seconds the race lasts, they are all heroes.  Dads everywhere, I salute you.

The mum’s race has an entirely different vibe.  There are only about 6 competitors, and four of them are wearing sports kit and running spikes.  What’s that about?  My children persuaded me to run it last year, and I spent the entire length of the track trying to stop my skirt from riding up and showing my knickers.  It goes without saying that I didn’t win.  I wasn’t even a valiant second.  Or third.  I’m thinking of requesting that next year they make it an obstacle race.

And so to the kids – the reason we are all actually there. I love cheering on the children – all the children, not just my own.  I love the way the crowd always gets behind the slow kid struggling at the back and roars with joy when they cross the line.  Everything about it is a microcosm of life.  It is a competition, and there are individual winners.  The children are also in houses, and each individual win contributes to the house’s overall success.  Each child feels the glory and tastes the pain of the wins and losses of others in their house.  But we are also a community, we celebrate those who have done well and support those who are struggling.  And isn’t that how life should be?  My children’s school is a great community to be part of.  Thank you, Mr H*.

* Mr H is headmaster at my children’s school and is regarded with awe and reverence in our house.  Nothing makes my children sharpen their manners like the words ‘What would Mr H say?’

Big hair and an eclectic sense of style challenge me to be nicer

I already have so many failings, and yet, dear reader, it seems that I must add another.  I am a fraud.  It all started when I went on a course last week.  I didn’t arrive with the deliberate intention to deceive and yet, by the end of the week, I seemed to have accidentally created a wholly different persona.  The persona of someone who is much nicer.

All my friends, those who love me most and know me best, know that I am acerbic (which really just a polite way of saying ‘critical’) and challenging (‘opinionated’).  And yet, over the course of three days, I managed to convince six strangers that I am a caring and considerate human being.

I blame the tutor.  From the outset she had a warmth and openness that was beguiling.  I loved her eclectic sense of style, big hair, and up-tempo vibe.  I was like a moth to her flame.  And then there were the other people on the course.  Women with stories to tell, women with guts and determination, women who listened – properly listened – to what others were saying.  (There was due to be a man on the course, but he was a ‘no show’).

Everyone was so kind, so supportive, that it made me want to be, well, kind and supportive.  And so it happened.  I started listening to what people were saying.  And the more I listened, the more respect I had for them, these women of different ages and different backgrounds.  I saw how special they were (are!).  And I wanted them to feel as nurtured and supported as I did.  And there it was.  Just like that I had accidentally become a nicer person.

I’m not saying it will last – I still need to keep my husband on his toes – but maybe I will keep just a little bit of my new persona.  It’s a shame to spend all that money on a course and only have learnt about journalism, when what you could have done is learnt about yourself.

I went on the lifestyle journalism course run by the London School of Journalism, and would like to thank Lorna V (the tutor) and everyone on the course for all it has given me. #GroupHug