This is my story – and the story behind this small piece of the online world.
Both my parents grew up during the Second World War. Both lost their fathers to the war when they were very young. They were raised on rations by single mothers who were the very definition of strong and resourceful and who passed that on to their children.
As a family we weren’t poor, but we certainly weren’t wealthy. My father worked in a high street bank. There was no inherited wealth. I went to State-funded schools. We led a comfortable life largely thanks to Dad’s hard work and his ability to budget, save and be smart with money.
Through his work, he saw first-hand how debt ruined lives. He taught me to pay my debts down quickly and to live within my means. I learned about limits from him: that anything which costs more than you can afford does not bring you joy; that learning and doing things for yourself is more satisfying than outsourcing; and that I can live quite happily without having everything I want.
I also learned that it’s possible to hold down a responsible job and be home for dinner with your family every night. Dad always said he could have done better in life, because if he’d worked harder he would have advanced further in the bank and earned more money.
But I think he had his priorities right. Looking back, I think he was a success in every way that mattered. He provided for his family and he was there. I learned about “the world” from him: politics, economics, money; how to read, ride a bike and drive; basic car maintenance.
My mum says she’s “built for comfort, not speed”. She was always around when I was growing up and from spending time with her I learned how to knit, sew and cook and the names of many flowers; how to be kind, generous and brave; to take pleasure in people, art, the outdoors; to live in the moment and not to worry too much about the cleaning.
I learned to love words from both my parents. My dad taught me to read before I started school, made up nonsense songs and played with words. My mum loved to write. Mum and I still do the cryptic crossword together when I visit.
Neither of my parents went to university, and neither placed any pressure on me to fly high. But they were around; they loved me and grounded me; gave me confidence, support, and intellectual stimulation. They made me curious. They had no particular ambitions for me but they believed in me. They never made me feel that anything was out of my reach.
I suppose that’s why I got myself to a leading University and became a lawyer in the City of London. No-one in my family had ever done it, but it never occurred to me that I couldn’t. I thought it would make me a “success”. So I did it. I got the law degree, passed the professional exams, got the high flying lawyer job.
I was a City lawyer for seven years. I worked too hard, was permanently stressed, got married, got divorced a year later, had a string of unsuitable boyfriends who all worked too hard as well, drank too much, ate too much junk food, slept too little, had no life. I pretty much just existed. It’s easy to gloss over those years; easier than reliving them. I made a fair bit of money and I completely lost touch with what made me happy. I was miserable.
When people learn that I used to be a “successful” lawyer in the City, they often ask: “Would you ever go back to it?”. Nope. Not for any price. I still have nightmares sometimes that I have.
But looking back, I don’t regret any of that time. It enabled me to buy a house and pay down a good chunk of the mortgage, completely on my own. I was able to travel and see the world. It bought me my freedom. And it taught me that outward success has nothing to do with happiness; that, like my father before me, I wanted to find a balance between working and living.
After I left the world of City law, I never had a “career” or life plan again. I wanted to get back in touch with myself, to find out how I most wanted to live and work.
And so followed a series of fun experiments. I worked in organisational development and training, copywriting, executive and life coaching and as a personal trainer. I devoured self-help books, did numerous courses and had coaching myself. I moved to Brighton to be by the sea. I basically just did what I felt like doing or learning; worked when I needed the money and stopped when I stopped getting anything out of it.
I left my last full-time job in the City at the age of 37, because I wanted to have a life where I lived. I have worked part-time as a coach and writer ever since.
It wasn’t until I handed in my notice that I met my husband Paul. I don’t think that was a coincidence. By then, I’d rediscovered who I was and what I wanted out of life. I’d made space for a life outside of work and finally I found one. We got married, had our daughter, paid off the mortgage and all our debts and built a life together.
In many ways, I’ve come full circle from my childhood. We now live much as our parents did before us: simply, modestly, but well, so that we can have time for a life outside work and give our daughter the grounding we had as children. We have time, space and love in our lives. I feel unbelievably lucky for the start that I had, proud of what we’ve achieved, and I am grateful every day for what we have.
I have lived the life I thought I wanted and now I am living the life I really want. It is my dearest wish to help and inspire others to do the same, so that they can experience for themselves the joy and peace which comes from living and working in harmony with who they really are.