What a difference a year makes…

Winter Trees and Sunshine in the Peak District

Winter Trees and Sunshine in the Peak District

This time last year, we were driving back from a great New Year’s party in Bolton. It was a brilliant party and a chance to reconnect with friends I’d known since I was a teenager. But it hadn’t been a very happy festive period for me. I was worried that I might be made redundant as soon as I set foot in the office on the 2nd January. Things turned our very differently, but I remember writing my new year’s resolutions for 2013 in the back of my diary, with tears in my eyes.

I was determined that despite the negative situation at work, that this would be the year that things would finally change:

New Year’s Resolutions 2013

Think and act positive.

Spread the love and it will come back to me.

Count your blessings (and write them down)

Relax more and enjoy life.

Have confidence in my abilities and pride in what I’ve acheived.

Things to do:

  • Job search. In 2013, I will find a new job / career and it will be a really positive change.
  • Read the ‘What Color is my Parachute’ book and do the exercises.
  • Start a blog for my writing / editing / creative work.
  • Keep being creative!
  • Do more marketing of Outside Inside.
  • Finish Distortion and get it out there.

I think I was already on the right path. Even before the announcements of the changes at work, I’d been exploring other career options. But I was still focussed on finding “a job” out there, in an advert, or that one flash of lightning that told me the one thing I was meant to be. A few things changed that. I had an interview for a great community sector job, helping people into learning and education. I worked hard on the presentation, and thought the interview went well, but there was strong competition. I felt let down when I didn’t get the job, and the organisation didn’t even bother to call me to give me feedback. For a while, I irrationally thought that was my fault – that I wasn’t even worth contacting, even to reject.

I worked my way through the somewhat complex exercises in What Color is my Parachute and I knew that the path I took would have to be creative. I also found out that looking for job adverts and filling in application forms is the least effective form of job search (about a 4-10% success rate). The penny dropped. There had to be another way! Then, some half-hearted research for my novel helped me to find Free Range Humans, run by Marianne Cantwell. A search about personal stylists, inspired by an idea to put the characters from my first novel Outside Inside into my second novel. I found this amazing story, and signed up, half-believing that it was some kind of scam. I bought Marianne’s book Be a Free Range Human. I read the book, mostly with tears in my eyes because its home truths were so familiar to me. I worked through the exercises, and I had the blue-print for my brand new business and an idea of what I wanted to do. After my very tearful but useful coaching session with Beverley Ward, that I mentioned in my previous post (where I described the block of lard that my job had become), and I was ready to opt for redundancy.

If you read back enough posts, you’ll know the rest. A scary, but exciting year. Tomorrow, my working life picks up pace again, with a meeting with an editing client. I’ve got a meeting with a brand-new client on Friday, which is really exciting, another client meeting on Saturday, and next week, my Derbyshire County Council teaching work will start again at Newholme Hospital, and I’ve also got my Micro-teach session for my teaching course, and a visit to Bolsover to explore ideas for running more courses! I’m teaching a creative writing group in Barnsley as a guest tutor – in fact, the week is looking rather jam-packed. It looks like 2014 is hitting the ground running.

Here are my resolutions / affirmations for this year. There are some things that I didn’t manage last year. I stumbled a little with my second novel, probably for all the right reasons, but this year:

I’m going to work my way through Distortion, scene by scene, page by page, until I finish my first draft. And then it will go through a careful editing process and will be published, one way or another.

I am going to publish Outside Inside as a Print on Demand paperback as soon as possible. Lots of people have said they’d read it and then gone into a massive tirade against e-books! And learning this process will also help me to publish books for other people in the future.

To develop my writing and editing business and my teaching experience. To use my skills to earn myself a living and make others happy. So far, I’ve been managing to pay the bills, but now I need to strive to create the life that I want to live, using my skills and talents.

To spend more time with friends and family.

To spend time outside – lots of walks, and I’ll be keeping myself busy as usual over the festival season, courtesy of Oxfam Stewarding and Angel Gardens. I can’t wait for the leaves to come out again….

To put time and energy into increasing my creativity:

  • To learn a musical instrument!
  • To paint some pictures – or create some collages.
  • To start keeping “morning pages” to free up my writing. I’ve just started reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I’ve been meaning to read this for ages!
  • I also need to read through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I bought with last year’s birthday money but haven’t properly explored yet.

Even when the weather’s terrible, like it was today, there’s always a silver lining – a chance to curl up with a good book, do something creative and learn a new skill. I’ve not done badly today – I’ve done some freelance work, finished Dream Seed Magic by Diane Leigh, a fellow “free-ranger”, learned some chords on my new ukulele and written this blog post! And hopefully there’s time for some more before bed time!

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“This,” she thought to herself cheerfully, “is where I break my neck.”

I’ve stolen a phrase from the book I’m reading at the moment, The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White. It’s the fantasy novel about the future king Arthur. The young Arthur, known as “The Wart” is the foster son of an obscure nobleman in a fictitious medieval England until he meets his destiny by pulling the magic sword out of the stone. Merlyn the magician becomes his tutor and helps him to achieve his destiny by sending The Wart on magical adventures and turning him into various animals. In this particular scene, The Wart has been turned into an owl and is about to take his first flight.

And that’s how I feel right now, knowing I should be scared of falling, but excited about flying.

Yesterday, I plucked up the courage to give my notice at work. Following the much reviled office move to Derby, I had a month to make up my mind whether I thought I could give it a go. If I decided it wasn’t working out for me, I could apply for redundancy with no hard feelings. And that’s what I’ve decided to do. It was a very calm, and very friendly discussion, very far removed from the scene in my novel Outside Inside when Miriam quits her job at the building society. I work until the end of April, I’ll get a small redundancy package, and that’s that – I’m free! A few months ago, that thought was a terrifying prospect, but I’ve been spending the last few months learning about myself and starting to plan for the future. This blog is one of the tentative first steps that I’ve taken into the wide world.

I do have a plan – I’m sure it will evolve and develop as I go along, but the biggest change is that I don’t want my life to be dominated by one job that takes up the majority of my time. I want to have my cake and eat it really. I’m going to get back into education so the sensible part of my plan is to sign up to be a supply teaching assistant; to gain experience in working in a wide variety of schools. But I’m also going to be developing my skills as a writing tutor, volunteering with the wonderful http://www.inspirerotherham.org/. I also want to develop my own creative writing business so watch this space! I should be terrified about leaving the security of a full-time job behind me, but I feel excited and inspired. I would like to thank my partner, family and friends who have been very supportive so far. I am also very grateful to Marianne Cantwell and everyone at Free Range Humans: http://www.free-range-humans.com. You should check out the Free Range Humans website, especially if you are feeling a bit pissed off with your job and are wondering what to do next.

I’ve been able to practise my “free range” career lifestyle today because Sheffield was buried under a rather large dump of snow today. There was no way I was able to drive to Derby as half the motorway was blocked. Instead I just fired up my laptop and got on with a full day’s work. However, it was a case of “death by spreadsheet”, so at teatime, I took a walk to the fetch my veg box from my local health food shop, Beanies, about a mile away. http://www.beanieswholefoods.co.uk/  It was a very bracing walk, in a blizzard, but I felt alive and a bit smug watching people in cars sliding all over the place on their way home from work.

I feel like my personal spring is starting, but everyone is waiting for the temperatures outside to rise. In just over a month’s time, when I finish work, it should be almost Summer, but outside right now, there’s about a foot of snow on the ground and the steep roads in Walkley are impassable.  Come on Spring!

Here are some photos, I took on my walk, including an ironic one with daffodils in my garden covered in snow. I told you I was feeling creative!

Things this blog is about…