So you want to change your life?
Life is hard. Of course, it can be wonderful. Full of warmth, joy, laughter and love. But it can be awful too. Full of fear, worry, loneliness and guilt. If we can get the balance right then the hard times are bearable. They even make us stronger and wiser, make us appreciate the good times all the more. Without that balance, life can feel bleak and yes, hard. Sometimes too hard.
If you're struggling to find the right balance and you find yourself wondering how to change your life for the better, then I hope this post will help. I urge you to be brave. Listen to the voice inside you, telling you exactly what needs to change and if, deep down, it feels like it's right, just do it. Better to regret something you've done than something you never did, right?
Sometimes you need to break away from 'the plan'
I've always been pretty cautious by nature. I've never broken any bones, I always did what I was told at school and in adult life, I avoid anything that seems a bit risky. I hate Alton Towers. There, I've said it! Don't judge me.
And yet, in May 2016, something happened. I had a light bulb moment and I decided to do something totally out of character and that completely changed the course of my life...
Career-wise, I've known what path I would take since I was at school. I had a plan! I would work hard, get good grades, go to university and then get a 'good job'. Once in that job, the hard work would continue and I would gradually rise up the ladder until I felt I'd gone far enough. I never quite knew when that point would come but that didn't matter. I would just keep going until it did.
And sure enough, I got decent grades, I went to uni, where I studied French. Not because I had a particular passion for it, but because I was decent at languages and it seemed a reasonable option. After 4 years, I duly graduated and began working life.
The plan was going smoothly....
If You Understand People & How to Solve Problems You Can Do Pretty Much Anything!
After a couple of years of doing bits and bobs - even briefly deciding to try my hand at teaching, I found myself walking through the doors at Experian for the first time. I started in customer service and I was good at it. I liked talking to people and genuinely wanted to help them. I soon progressed to team manager and I enjoyed that too. Understanding what motivated my team and helping them to achieve their best was incredibly rewarding.
In 2009, I was promoted to section manager. I managed 5 teams and my role became more focused on strategy and process improvements. I loved the challenge and found it fun to find different ways of doing things and new ways to approach old problems.
'The plan' continued to rumble on and I never considered what fabulous life skills I was picking up along the way.
Sometimes the Worst Things are Actually The Best..
After a year or so, I hit a bump in the road, when my role was made redundant. I found myself back in a team manager position, struggling with a sudden loss of confidence, nothing to challenge me and no motivation.
It was a hard time, but in retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. It forced me to widen my horizons and to start to look at other areas of the business that interested me. In 2010, I did the first thing that scared me. I applied for, and was given a role in marketing. It was just a secondment and it was back at the bottom of the ladder again. I swallowed my pride and went for it and my life shifted ever so slightly into a new gear.
I was no longer working directly with customers but I was still working for them. My role in marketing had more freedom to be creative and slowly, but surely I started to find some confidence again...
The plan was back on track, but something had changed, although I didn't realise it at the time. That little act of bravery would show me that I could achieve surprising things if I sometimes stepped outside of 'the plan' and took the odd risk.
You Probably Know a Lot More Than You Think 🙂
Initially, I felt like a fraud. I had no marketing qualifications or experience. What on earth could I offer? Before long however, I realised that my time working directly with our customers was in fact a huge benefit. It gave me real insight into what they wanted, what their frustrations were and so, what we, as marketers could do to make them happy.
I worked hard and was given a permanent role in Customer Marketing where I got to go back to speaking directly to customers - this time instead of over the phone, it was through service emails and newsletters. I told them about our products and how they could use them to help with the problems they were facing. I wrote blog posts and web content, brochures and text messages. I wrote FAQs, customer service scripts and more.
Before long, I was creating content plans, writing not just for our customers but for our clients' customers. Switching from one brand voice to another, from one service to another.
I had always loved writing, but as a hobby. It was never part of 'the plan' but a little voice inside started to softly ask 'why?'
How Often Do You Question Your Plan?
I worked and worked. I mean, I really worked hard. I travelled to London each week and I often did long hours. I missed parents' evenings, school plays and looking after my children when they were sick. I missed first steps, first words, trips to the park, and sunny days in the paddling pool.
Because, that was 'the plan'. I had to keep working and progressing to the next rung. Each rung took a little more effort and a little more of my time but it would all be worth it when I got that next promotion. Right...?
Then in March 2016, it happened. I was offered a Marketing Manager role. It was my ideal job! I would be managing people again, and I would help to shape our message to customers, to play an important part in our marketing strategy at a really exciting time of change in the business. I was THRILLED. Yes, it meant more travel, more responsibility and more work, but that was FINE. It was a role that excited and challenged me. I loved my manager and knew I would learn a huge amount from her. Everything was perfect.
---Everything apart from that nagging voice, that constant background doubt in 'the plan' that wouldn't go away. In fact, it was getting louder and louder until I could no longer ignore it.
How a Rainy Day & a Playground Changed Everything
Everything changed one Sunday morning. I was tired and stressed and had just dropped my eldest off at his Sunday School. My youngest and I were walking back home and he pointed hopefully at the park as we went past. For the briefest of moments I thought 'yes, why not? It would be nice to have a little play in the park with my little boy'. We shifted our direction and started to walk over. My two year old's face lit up.
Then I noticed how wet everything was. It had been raining. Of course. My heart sank and I tried to explain to my toddler that in fact it was too wet and we would have to just go home instead. It didn't go down well. As he cried, I felt like crying too. It was just another moment of letting him down and missing out on quality time with him. Suddenly, it was too much. Something clicked in my brain and all I could think was 'what is it that is going to make this worthwhile? This constant tiredness, stress and guilt. What is the end goal that I'm working towards that makes this ok?'
I couldn't answer.
I went home and I cried to my husband. I mean, I WEPT. I cried for the lost moments with my children, I cried for the endless snappiness and arguments caused by tiredness and stress and I cried because I realised that something drastic needed to change and it scared the life out of me.
My husband was, and always has been my rock. He's always believed what I didn't - that I could do anything I put my mind to. He's also more of a risk taker then I, so when I tentatively suggested something that felt so shocking to me I could hardly bring myself to verbalise it, he didn't flinch before telling me that I should do whatever would make me happy again.
Suddenly, 'the plan' changed.
A Braver New World
Just a few weeks later, after thirteen years, I handed my notice in at Experian. I had moments of doubt, of blind panic and almost paralysing terror at the thought of leaving the security of a company that had been my second home for so long. I've made the very best of friends there, created memories, laughed, cried and everything in between. But deep down, I knew it was right. I felt a sort of calm determination and I knew that everything would be ok.
Now, here I am. Mistress of my own destiny - and I have no regrets. I miss a lot of things - the people especially. But I've got so much more in return. I'm still working hard, but I'm balancing it with my family. I spend the summer holidays in the sunshine, going to parks, having picnics and splashing in paddling pools. I get to do the school run, help with homework, baking brownies and sometimes just sitting and having quiet cuddles.
Business is good. it's still scary but I feel more excited than scared, more inspired than overwhelmed. I wondered if I'd be lonely, but I'm meeting new people - other courageous business owners. We're helping each other and learning from each other, just like when I was with my colleagues before.
So I think from now, I'll start to do more things that scare me because so far, every time I have it's led to something rather wonderful.
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