The corporate headhunter finished reading my CV, peered at me over her funky blue-rimmed spectacles and sucked in her breath, just like a comedy car mechanic does right before telling you how much you’re about to be charged for a new flux capacitor.
“Thing is…” she said, “I could definitely help you climb the next few rungs of the career ladder – you could be earning tens of thousands more than you are now. But you’ll have to put the extra hours in. Are you ready for that?”
My heart sank. I’d contacted her because I had recently started to think about planning the second half of my life. After nearly fifteen years as a beleaguered Head of HR (or Personnel, if you prefer) for a beige collection of corporate entities, sleepwalking through the excruciating daily commute to London from Southend to earn…well, enough money to cover that expensive commute, not to mention the buckets of takeaway coffee needed to fuel all the early morning starts, I’d paid my dues and was ready to commit to something grander. Or at least, I thought I was.
Why wasn’t I feeling enthused about the opportunity to earn success and money, wasn’t this what everybody wanted? Why wasn’t I proud of talking about what I did for a living; why did I frequently move work-related conversations away from myself and onto the safety of others?
As I walked away from the headhunter’s plush City office on that rainy November day I made a silent decision: to decide whatever the hell it was I wanted to do, and then get on and do it. There were only two things I knew for certain at that point: what I wanted wasn’t HR management, and I didn’t really care about much more money, as long as I had enough to keep the roof over my head leak-free.
I spent many fruitless hours trying to convince myself that I would be better off just staying where I was. I knew my job, after all – it was safe, and people seemed to think I was good at it. It’s usual for people not to feel very happy at work – or at least that tended to be the record-stuck story I kept hearing from friends and colleagues, particularly after several glasses of wine. So I was just normal, wasn’t I?
Except…the voice inside me, the half-strangled one that kept refusing to die, the one that kept on telling me that this couldn’t be it – only grew louder. So I made a firm decision to embrace the fear of the unknown, and see what would happen.
And so I re-discovered my energy for the one thing I knew deep down I had always wanted to do – write. Just write. Something I’ve done every day, without really thinking about. I’ve kept a personal diary ever since I was little, I’ve helped friends and colleagues write difficult letters and e-mails, and I’ve promoted companies’ messages through simple and engaging words that really reflect who they are. My house is piled up with notebooks full to bursting with ideas for half-written stories and novels.
How would I make money from just writing, though? In my head, being a successful writer was being a ‘proper’ novelist – a JK Rowling, a Stephen King. It wasn’t someone like me, sitting at my desk and dealing with stories of office politics by day, dreaming by night. Often dreaming by day, too.
But I wouldn’t know, would I, what the possibilities were until I bothered to do something about it! I started by making a list of all the things people needed to write, from cradle to grave. Actually, I got some flipchart paper and completely covered the walls in my bedroom with all the things people need to write. CVs, eulogies, letters, statements, web copy, personal and professional profiles – it didn’t take long to fill those walls right up!
The need for writing was clearly there. It was everywhere, in fact. I would just have to be flexible and open to what sort of writing I did. Luckily for me, I love it all – because all of it, even if you’re writing somebody’s CV, is finding out about a person and then telling their story in a way that fits them. Every last one of those stories is unique, and I knew, in that way you just know, that telling them was what I wanted to do.
And so, finally, this twisted path of discovery has led me here… to helping people tell their own stories as well as writing my own. Handing in my notice at work felt genuinely euphoric, and now when I get up every morning I’m not only giving myself permission to be creative, but I’m also using that creativity in a helpful and practical way. It’s something I never really believed would be possible, but I’m living proof that with focus, enthusiasm and support, anyone can make their long-buried creative dreams a reality.