As I was sat in one of the Campus for Mums and Dads lectures at Google in London, one of the guest speakers, Alex Trewby, said something that has stuck with me. He said his friends fell into two categories after having kids — they either kept on slogging at the same old career trajectory, feeling trapped in the mortgage-paying, childcare-voucher, nice perk provider of their employer. Or, they got their backside in gear and set out to pursue their dreams.
And that resonated to my core.
A recent study by www.workingmums.co.uk found that the top reason for Mums retraining was that their values had changed (35%). But I wonder if that really is the reason — it certainly wasn’t for me.
A Fan Of The Alternative
I’d always been a fancier of “The Alternative” to the 9–5er, corporate vibe. I attended the milk rounds at university out of curiosity, where biggies like Accenture and Ernst & Young woo young talent with cheap wine and the promise of golden handshakes. It just didn’t appeal. I would regularly declare to my parents I was going to do something ‘obscure’ as a living — definitely not in an office and definitely not wearing a suit.
Fast forward, a couple of years later, I’m wearing my (only) suit and starting on the graduate scheme at a global management consultancy. It seemed a good option given I was short of inspiration on what I wanted to do. Did it feel aligned to my values? Not really, and it didn’t feel great all the time, but it was 100% a good thing for me — giving me exposure to exceptional individuals who taught me I can do many things beyond what I perceive to be my limits. I hold dear some of my favourite memories of my 20’s, from that era, as well as friends for life. But when it comes to values, we’re either living them or we’re not. We’re moving closer, or moving further away.
An inhouse role in IT came along. I certainly wasn’t miserable — I liked working there, but just didn’t feel very aligned with the work. So, outside work hours I’m reading and reading, looking for whatever it was I was looking for — The 4 Hour Workweek, Feel The Fear, 7 Habits, What Should I Do With My Life?, etc. I got a coach, hoping they can guide me to somewhere and give me a sense of purpose. Then I quit, with the plan of doing something else, and got another, different coach. But yet, the ‘thing’ I was supposed to be doing still felt elusive and foggy. But that’s all okay — because the ‘thing’ was going to happen — just in the future, ‘one day.’
And then my son was born. And suddenly it mattered a whole lot more.
Suddenly our values come into focus when we have children
Because I want the best life for my son, and I want him to have the freedom to be the person he wants to be. I want for him to be brave enough to pursue whatever it is he wants to do, without being constrained by the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of society and peers. And I realised I can’t say this to him if I’m not doing it myself. Children detect duplicity a mile away and I don’t want to be looking into his eyes saying, “don’t do what I did, do what I’m telling you to do”, and for him to be looking back into mine and thinking “yeah, right.” And I’ve realised this about kids — it’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you do that does the talking.
I think there’s also the essence that, on having kids, you need to grow up yourself and start taking responsibility for your life. No one else knows what your values are — it’s you and you only who can commit to spending the time and effort to finding them and living them. And that takes a bit of trial and error. The reality was dawning that if I wanted to take a stab at the adventure of entrepreneurship, finding my passion and having more freedom in my working life (ultimately to spend time with the family), I needed to start putting things in place now. Given I want more children, I’m imagining it’s only going to get harder to find the time and headspace. The future is now.
A constant reminder
And I have to remind myself quite often, when I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere, of the values that I’m venturing towards — turns out it certainly doesn’t always feel easy. I’m doing this to have a flexible life to spend time with my family. I’m doing this to have the freedom to take a month off over summer and to trundle around in a campervan with the kids. I’m doing this because I feel so much happier with a purpose and something I feel passionate about.
And it turns out, all that time before, when I had worked with my coaches to figure out my plan, it had uncovered exactly what I wanted to do. I absolutely didn’t realise it at the time! I still have the piece of paper where, sat beside my coach four years ago, I’d drawn a picture of the role and business that I was aspiring to. There wasn’t a job title or a role, just a collection of elements that I wanted, and a flavour of life I wanted to be living. And that is where I seem to be headed. Steve Jobs said something about only being able to connect the dots back — it seems even when you’ve drawn the picture!
So today? I’m on the trajectory I want to be. I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered anything, and it’s certainly not the easy path, but I’m introducing more and more elements into my life that make me feel good — great, in fact — and I’m really excited about the future. Bit by bit, I’m honouring each of my values, and that makes me feel I can sit infront of my son with an honest heart and nothing to hide. And that’s priceless.