You’re at a crossroads. You need a new direction. You know the route you want to take. Out with the old and in with the new. But the road ahead is scary. And you may not be fully equipped to meet the challenges.
Sound familiar? The internet is awash with stories and statistics relating to changing career direction in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Everyone’s story is different. Everyone’s motivation is unique. But if change is beckoning, that’s our common denominator.
All I can do is share my story.
Let me introduce myself: female, of ‘middling’ years, and in a relatively well-paid and secure career – at least by today’s standards. Yet I find myself dithering at the end of the diving board, tentatively plucking up the courage to wave goodbye to safety and plunge into the precarious world of freelance writing. Seeing it written down in black and white like this, I realise something: I’m a cliché!
It also evokes something else – a sense of guilt. At a time when so many have found themselves unemployed, isn’t it a little indulgent to consider quitting a safe teaching job to pursue a ‘dream’? Especially as I have reached the dizzy heights of middle management, that nirvana where all the accountability resides - and none of the perks …
But I don't feel so guilty that I don't want to forge ahead.
My current status is this: I’m desperate to make the jump, yet paralysed by fear. What if I’m not up to scratch? What if I’m just a bit too long in the tooth to have any relevance in today’s market? And the big question – what if I can’t make any money? I may proclaim that I’m in it for the passion rather than the pound, but a gal’s gotta live. There’s one thing I know, though – something has to give. Now that the bug for change has taken root, it just won’t let go. It’s an itch that refuses to be scratched. But what brought about this ‘existential crisis’ (or plain old bog-standard mid-life crisis), if that’s the correct term for my current maelstrom of restlessness and doubt?
Like many, I point to the coronavirus-wrought lockdown as the agent for change – but it’s not quite as simple as that. Last January I had a somewhat serious accident and was laid up for five weeks. Of course, Netflix demanded much of my attention, and I kept in touch with the goings-on at work, but the demons would not be held at bay. It was during this period of enforced inactivity that, as commonly happens, long-suppressed issues wrestled their way to the surface. The 65-70 hour working week that has become the norm in teaching - for perfectionists, anyway - is crippling and unsustainable. But that’s only part of the problem. I was, I realised, seriously disconnected. If my memories of childhood serve me well (no guarantee of that) teachers were once charmingly scruffy creatures with elbow patches and a cornucopia of knowledge, or formidable beasts that could launch a blackboard rubber with the aim of a darts champion. Ah, the good old days … Whatever its faults, it was a colourful and varied world. Now, with over twenty years of teaching behind me, I look around me and feel like a dinosaur – I’m surrounded by bright young Wunderkinder who can work magic with a spreadsheet and have all the latest buzz-words at the tip of the tongue. They are a competent and officious new breed and they have revolutionised the classroom. I count many of them as valued colleagues. But they come from a different mould. Many unwittingly embrace the burnout culture that I deplore. Added to that, the culture of micro-management that has crept its way into teaching is seriously at odds with my basic hunger for autonomy and independence. The endless cycle of government initiatives also takes its toll. So, all in all, I’m an anachronism.
Ultimately, I’d unearthed a deep dissatisfaction with my current career - but what fired up the passion for the new one?
And this is where lockdown comes in. Two weeks after my phased return to work, I found myself once again confined within my personal space as the national hibernation commenced. Within days, I was devouring books, even more so than usual. I started writing reviews of the books I was reading and found that I derived immense satisfaction from this. I write a lot, of course, on a functional level: reports, policies, mission statements – the list goes on. This was different. And then I signed up to an online freelancer platform, rather speculatively. And, my giddy aunt, is it competitive. Not only are there countless freelancers out there flogging their wares, but many of them are willing to do it for unbranded peanuts. Needless to say, I submitted in the region of thirty-plus proposals before landing my first gig – 2,500 words for a meagre £25.00. But I gave it my all. I appreciated the break. And the work steadily flowed in. This, I thought, is how I'd like to spend my days.
Some irreversible change had taken place.
All this triggered a distant memory, long ago confined to a sealed casket of the mind. It’s the 1970s. I’m about nine years old. A glorious summer afternoon, brilliant sunshine streaming in through the impossibly high classroom windows, illuminating every particle of dust and bathing the scene in warmth and serenity. The scent of pencil shavings and the scratching of pen on paper pervade my senses. I am dimly aware of the peripheral presence of Mrs McHenry, silently but formidably urging excellence. We were writing a story. I recall being utterly consumed by ideas pilfered from Enid Blyton and Judith Beresford, my reading fodder at that time, and frantically scribbling away so that I could complete my composition with the obligatory ellipsis before the bell terminated this perfect moment.
The main thing I recall, though, is the sensation of concentrated bliss. Why had I locked that memory away for so long? With hindsight, I realise that this was the moment when I knew I wanted my life to centre around writing. The best laid plans and all that ...
Over forty years and real life have intervened since that day - but I want to make it happen. I am, however, in a curious kind of limbo, juggling my freelancing with a full-time teaching post. It’s not ideal. And you know what really appeals to me about freelancing? It’s the ‘free’ bit – it calls out to my more bohemian core. Yet my more practical, conservative side is urging caution. This sensible side is not my friend, I fear – I strongly believe that in order to succeed at something you need to be ‘all in’.
I don’t intend to be still hovering and dithering by this point next year. But if I am, somebody give me a good hard push. Please.
Are you considering freelance writing as a new career? Have you already taken that leap? Please share in the Comments below.
Blog by Amanda Ellison
Photo by Danielle McInnes on Unsplash