In preparation for having to find a new job after 3.5 years in the same place (a personal best), I am working on my CV and have recently re-joined LinkedIn to help with the job search and see what skills I should be emphasising.
Going through my contacts sync on LinkedIn has turned up lots of people that I’ve lost touch with, mostly people I went to Northumbria University with while studying for my Master’s degree almost 10 years ago. A lot of them are working in jobs related to our studies (disaster management) or something similar and have worked their way up to senior roles. I’m really pleased for them, partly because we were told almost on our first day that “there were no jobs in this”, which was somewhat disheartening for me at least.
Where does the shame fit in?
Simply because I’m not doing anything similar. The focus on ‘resilience’ slowly seeped into conversations in my most recent job, but mostly by those wanting to deal a softer blow to communities that would have some sort of services cut due to austerity and would have to fend for themselves. I was able to make some attempts to talk about what resilience really was about, but that is about the extent of the connection between my “career” and my MSc.
Spending the time and money on my MSc and not doing anything with it is a source of shame for me, but I’m fighting the small part of me that wants to say anything about my classmates having it easy, or me having it so hard. I don’t know what they’ve been through or had to overcome in the last 10 years. I’m not jealous or envious: I’m using their success as a reason to believe that the door is also open for me, should I choose to walk through.
What do my decisions have to do with this?
In order to fight the part of me that wants to say, “well that could be me if only X didn’t happen, or Y did happen”, I have to be honest about my decisions and what power I have had over my own life.
The key decision-making time was when Dad died. My brother and I were left with some cash, a fully-owned house, a chunk of farmland, and horses. My brother lives abroad so I dealt with probate and everything else pretty much on my own, which took a really long time. Everyone tells you to hold on to farmland: it’s valuable. I’m not sure if we ever really considered selling it anyway, so I don’t know how much that affected us.
Lots of people asked what I would do with the horses. To me, it was a no-brainer: of course I would keep them because that was what Dad would want, and what I wanted. And it wasn’t like I had a field of champion racehorses that people would be breaking the door down for. Even though I felt like that wasn’t a decision, it was, and has continued to be. The problem with that was that, even if we sold the farmland, it seriously limited where I could move to and thus what work I could do. So I didn’t move anywhere.
The next few years were really hard: I moved between jobs that I didn’t really want, and when I finally found one that was better, I lost my dogs and some of the horses, and made some bad decisions that I won’t go into here. All of which led to me feeling low, apathetic, and worthless.
I still feel pretty crappy, but a while ago I realised that there were some things I could change. I had been to a conference and was walking on the beach just outside the hotel where I stayed with my Mum. It occurred to me that it would be pretty awesome to be able to wake up any morning and just take a walk on the beach. It took me a while to come back to this, but eventually I started looking at my options for buying a house and moving the horses. I was under redundancy notice from July 2019, so it seemed like a perfect chance to put things into action and relocate. Which is what I was doing when COVID happened…
So there are obviously things that have happened out of my control, but I controlled how I responded, even if the decisions I made didn’t feel like decisions.
I also completely avoided some decisions. At no point have I seriously networked with people working in the field to find out what I need to do, or had a professional look over my CV or help with job applications. I have rarely asked people who know me to look over job applications before I send them. I have never asked or paid anyone to look after the horses and cats while I do something to improve my career prospects. I have let my shyness, introversion, low self-confidence and fear of failure hold me back.
Even now, the decision to relocate is more about lifestyle rather than career progression. I’m unlikely to find disaster management work in my new location, but I want to go there because of the beaches, countryside, and my values like veganism and the environment. And it’s big enough to have stuff going on, but not too big. I don’t want to move to somewhere that would be better for my career (read: London), and am unlikely to be able to afford to even get very close, with the horses to think of too.
I’ve also changed in the past 10 years. I’m interested in different things and feel like I’m wired differently. When I applied for the MSc, I pictured myself working in poor countries or refugee camps, responding to some sort of crisis: something which would now fall into the “white saviour” category. During the course I came to realise that wasn’t what was needed or wanted, but then I felt a bit directionless. At the moment I’m very interested in food, nutrition and permaculture; as well climate change, plastic pollution, and human rights especially considering things like racism, gender and sexuality.
Maybe I’ll change my mind in a few years, and once I’ve relocated once, it won’t feel like such a big deal to do it again. I’m fortunate that I have very little else tying me down.