Career Laundry: Why the lockdowns are helping me build a life I don’t need to retire from

Career Laundry: Why the lockdowns are helping me build a life I don’t need to retire from February 28, 2022

Image credit: Katie Gerrard @ Manic Pagan Dream Grrl for Patheos

My career was always something that just was, it was never really a part of my identity and in many ways I often didn’t really think too much about why I chose that path.

But the lockdowns over the last few years forced me to really look at it for the first time ever, and ask “is this really a life which I can thrive within?”

It’s not as though I’d stayed in the same job for a decade, I switched around and did slightly different things.

I went from recruitment to teaching, through to housing and community, to youth work, and then back to recruitment. In my mind I’d made all the changes I needed to suit my psyche. I’d done the things you were supposed to do, I’d gained experience in other industries and consolidated my knowledge to teach others. I’d even managed to balance my career with life in a way which allowed me to work part time – that dream I’d had from my first week in an office.

Behind the scenes I also did all the things I really wanted to do. I wrote books, I designed clothes, I ran covens, I taught witchcraft. But I did all these apologetically, as though they came second to my “proper job”.

This time two years ago while everyone else was squinting at the news wondering if things would get bad for a month or so like they said it might, I was reaching breaking point.

I hadn’t burnt the candle at both ends so much as dumped a bunch of mismatching candles into my office and set fire to them all at once.

Through the coughing and smoke I could sort of see this wasn’t sustainable, but it looked like everyone else was doing the same. And in many ways those closest to me really were… work, parenting, hobbies, spiritual focus. We all did it. We all forced ourselves to work harder, faster, smarter so we could keep making time for what we really wanted to do. Everyone else was doing fine, so why wasn’t I?

If I couldn’t manage “life”, I told myself, I needed to try harder.

My work had stopped sparking job for me many years before this.

It had nothing at all to do with the place I worked or the way I worked. On paper it was wonderful, small company, great ethos, and the best group of people you could ever imagine being a part of. I chose my own hours and I had many different spaces to work in including the bustle of Oxford Street, the beauty of the marina, and the comfort and ease of my own front room.

And yet, I still just couldn’t focus and motivate myself.

The big neon signs in my subcomscious were screaming at me, “This life you’re building yourself is not feeding you.”

In March 2020 my life, along with many other people’s came to a standstill.

The pandemic stopped travel into London. It stopped the school run and socialising with my friends. It stopped the partying I did at least one evening a week (and often two or three) however tired and sick I felt. And most importantly, it stopped work.

A month later came furlough.

Stop work.

Down tools.

We’ll pay you to sit at home.

For the first time ever I had nothing to do (ignoring maternity leave which any parent will tell you is all go – go – go;  looking after a newborn and not a nice holiday) My children were home 24/7 which limited everything I could do but even with that added time restraint I suddenly had more energy to put into the things I enjoyed.

Katie Gerrrad
image credit: Katie Gerrard @ Manic Pagan Dream Grrl for Patheos

I wrote, I designed, I took photos. I studied subjects I’d been “meaning to learn” for decades with online course after online course.

By the time my children were back in school in September, I realised I felt calmer and happier than I had in many years.

At this point I considered finding a new job, and when you work in recruitment it’s actually often harder to not find a shiny new job than it is to find one. That’s a perk I’ll miss from my old life for sure!

I looked at my options for working and they just didn’t spark any joy.

“But what do I *really* want to do?”, I asked myself over and over

I’d been so programmed towards what I should do, even the concept of anything different seemed incredibly far from reality. I’d coached people to find their dream jobs for decades. And here I was, lost and frozen in indecision.

So I asked myself, what advice would I give if the me sitting in front of the laptop shrugging, if I was someone else.

And I took it.

I looked at the reasons I went to work.

They were pretty terrible.

I listed “getting out the house”, and “socialising” right at the top, followed by “I need to be a useful part of society and earn money”

At this point I’d barely left the house in months and I wasn’t feeling bored or lonely.

Plus I was using work to do the things I really needed to do for myself, it was replacing my self esteem and self actualisation. It was a hamster wheel of activity which forced me to go nowhere. I worked to do the things that I should have already felt within my own soul – comfort, achievement, love.

I was living a whole bunch of ‘shoulds’

Pride made me stay in a ‘proper job’ for way too long, but that wasn’t the only ‘should’ holding me back.

I should be more sociable, should function on a regular wage and have my employer pay tax for my directly. My children ‘should’ have a role model who worked to show them they could.

And yet, I was teaching them to run that hamster wheel rather than flourish and thrive. I was a terrible role model, I was teaching them it was okay to let work burn you out. To put achievements over happiness, and to exist in a life I barely recognised as my own let alone liked.

It wasn’t just work. I looked at day to day habits, friends, belongings and realised many of these no longer sparked joy either.

There was nothing wrong with recruitment. My friends were wonderful people too. My belongings and day to day lifestyle held nothing bad or wrong. I hadn’t built a ‘toxic’ life, I’d simply just built the wrong life for the person I was now becoming.

My old life may have been perfect for my old self, but the butterfly which was slowly growing behind the cocoon of lockdown and forced rest couldn’t live with so much of it and be happy.

Didn’t I deserve that? Happiness.

“But what about other people?”

“What if your happiness is at expense of others?”

“You can’t do this. You don’t have the tools.”

“You can’t afford it”

Limiting beliefs hold all of us back, and mine were loud.

I believed everyone else’s comfort and happiness came above mine and that living my own dreams took away from theirs. However, in reality, whilst some people did need to rely on me less, it was actually good for them too. Holding people prisoner in my own “you need me because I need to be needed” rhetoric wasn’t making them happy either.

Much of my subconscious also believed I didn’t have the financial means to do the things I wanted to.

This was fear talking, but I will say now, growing up with money and having your finances in order really does make it easier to be positive and reach for the stars. I didn’t have those things.

Those who tell you it’s easy to grow businesses, study, and take chances when you don’t know if you’ll have enough money to buy lunch that day but the bread is mouldy are misguided. Poverty holds people back. When your mental load is stretched towards rent and debt there’s not enough left for imagining a better future.

So what did I really want to do?

I want a life I don’t have to retire from. Where the parts of my life can live harmoniously together and the work I do brings deep satisfaction. A life where rest, spirituality, and relationships of all kinds are just as important as paid work.

We have one life. Whilst making choices and compromises are still essential, I actively choose to live the life which makes me happy. I don’t want to wait until I feel I’ve earnt the right to step out of a life which doesn’t fulfil me. What if I don’t make it to retirement? (I mean… what if the world doesn’t make it that far even?)

So I’m building myself a life I will never need to retire from

Putting those puzzle pieces in place one by one. It’s not a fast process by any means, but it’s my process, and things are completed exactly when they’re ready. Each goal is lovingly drawn out and energy of action poured into it.

I haven’t always got things right during the process. Some goals are erased and the energy I put into making them happen reclaimed as my focus changes ever so little with new discoveries and opportunities. Some ideas crashed and burned spectacularly. Success comes with a trail of little fires which didn’t spark, or burned themselves out too soon. That’s okay.

One of the hardest realisations I’ve had to make is that I can’t control everything and that life just happens. It’s the way I engage with it which makes the difference.

So here I am, feet and ankles into my new life and learning what it’s like to thrive.

About Katie Gerrard
Author of "Seidr: The Gate is Open" and "Odin’s Gateways", Katie Gerrard is a witch working as a hypnotherapist, yoga teacher and workshop facilitator. You can read more about the author here.

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