It’s a funny old business, life. Some people seem set up, right from the start. They know who they are, what they are, and how to get along. Some folk even seem to know what the future holds for them – or at least they have firm plans. I was a late starter; blinking, dazed, and unsure of myself. University gave me independence and self-confidence, my girlfriend gave me love and companionship, and I thought that was all I’d need. It was stability, but I still hadn’t found ‘me’. Not yet.
We stayed on after graduation, but the following year – working together at an examination board call-centre – we started to feel the itch of discontentment. Most of our friends had moved on, swathes of excitable new students had flooded the place (so young, so loud, *so irritating), and it gradually dawned on us that Cambridge was no longer ‘our place’. What were we even doing in this job? We’d become little more than punching bags, strung up and swinging under the blows of angry parents, overworked examiners and some bitter office politics.
That summer, we took a trip to New Zealand, and the contrast was vivid. We saw what life could be like when lived at a slower pace, where contentment was king and—oh! How we wanted that. I would have moved out there in a pinch, but Clover pulled **back from such an impulsive leap. We did agree it was time for a change though, so we spent some time thinking about what kind of a future we wanted, and where we might find it in the UK.
Our first excursion was to Wales, a place I’d fallen in love with over the course of a couple of rare childhood holidays. Clo and I stayed in a gorgeous cottage in Llwyncelyn, and spent a few days travelling up and down the coast, taking it all in. It was an eventful trip By the time it was over, we’d made firm plans to move to Aberyswyth, I’d proposed marriage, and we’d chucked out all thoughts of tradition for a full medieval wedding. That time spent away from the norm, thinking about what really mattered to us, was so very precious. It changed our lives.
Work got buried in the excitement of the move and the wedding. Any job would do, so long as we could pay the rent.*** Clo landed herself an office job and I went into retail, seeking to make more personal connections in the community. We started to learn the local language, joined the very medieval re-enactment group who’d provided our entertainment at the wedding, and settled into our new life.
Landing a role at WHSmith, I had the insane notion of trying to make an actual career of it. This was partly because it felt like the ‘grown-up’ thing to do and partly out of desperation, because I still had no idea what I was supposed to do with my education. I thought I’d be an author – always had – but without the driving force of a writing partner behind me, I’d sunk into creative indolence. Well, I’d figured, better to try hard at something than fail doing nothing. And with that, I sold my soul to retail.
Fast-forward 4 years, and I was running the branch. I’d pushed hard for the position because we’d decided it was better to secure a mortgage before starting a family – something which was becoming increasingly important to me – but the damned house-prices kept on climbing! We secured one in the end, but at a heavy cost: management was a disaster for my mental health. I seemed to be angry and stressed all the time, lashing out like a cornered beast, then sinking into regret and depression. I felt trapped, alone, unable to see a way out.
For a while there it felt as though our relationship might crumble. My career prospects certainly had, and with them much of my self-esteem. I hated myself for my weakness; I felt like an utter failure, but this woman – this wonderful wife of mine – saw the pain and shame at the heart of my anger and helped to guide me out.
With her blessing, I sought work elsewhere. By reducing the day-to-day pressures, I could rebalance my life, begin to breathe again, regain some semblance of control. Big things were happening and I needed to be ready for the wonders and traumas of fatherhood, because yes…our bundle of joy was already heading this way. I learned some big lessons through all of this: understanding my limitations, recognising my growing reliance on alcohol, and truly apprehending the sheer strength of the love and support my wife offered me. Time to give some of that back.
I had found my place, I had found the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but I still didn’t know what my potential was. Who and what I was, inside. I was getting there gradually, by process of elimination. I knew I couldn’t bear to be a mindless cog in the corporate machine, but neither could I lead; I was living proof of the Peter Principal. I’d have to be something in between, then.
I was a husband now, and I’d be a father soon—a thrilling prospect. My new job at the bank was never really going to be ‘me’ but that almost helped. I wouldn’t fall into the trap of trying to climb the corporate ladder because…well, how could anybody care about such a dry job? No. I would keep my focus where it mattered: on life with my loved ones. If there was more of me to discover in this labyrinth, I’d find it eventually. All I’d have to do was wait for the itch to start up again, and see where it led me.
Next month, the lights finally start to come on with the discovery of Geek Syndicate.
* Warning! Irony levels reaching maximum capacity. Evacuate!
** Sensible head on her shoulders, that lass. I count my blessings every day.
*** Clover’s dad – bless him – covered the bulk of the wedding costs.
If you struggle with anger issues, you might find Presence of mind useful.
If things are tricky at home or at work, try Seeking Resolution.