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