Life. Life happens to me like it happens to everyone.
I was shy and quiet as a small child, shy and slightly less quiet as an older one. At Oxford, I think I probably gave the impression of not being shy at all, and it’s easy to make insecurity look like arrogance.
I had a catastrophic car accident when I was 19, a couple of months before I went to university, which meant my health wasn’t great, so that was another thing I was denying. I reckon it took me a decade to get the shock – physical and emotional – of that experience out of my system, and in some ways the impact is still with me today.
I did law after my English degree because I wanted to help people. I didn’t realise until I’d qualified that law often isn’t much help. The law doesn’t encourage people to work out what’s best for them; it encourages them to entrench in a position and fight for it, while spending an awful lot of money. Law is based on an idea of truth as an objective set of facts that someone, usually a judge, decides. That might be okay if the judge likes your set of facts, but it’s not great when you’re told that what you believe happened is a lie. I believe that the truth, as some objective finding, doesn’t really matter. What matters is how an experience impacts you, another person, the neighbourhood, the class, the family, the workplace, and how your actions land with others.
I got married just after I qualified, to another lawyer. A year later my husband announced that he didn’t want to be married any more. That was a shock, but not the end of the world. Embarrassing, bearing in mind the wedding, the presents, the dress (which I made – sewing remains one of my favourite things); sad, in the context of dashed expectations and that it’s oddly hard to be friends with someone who once used to be the most important person in your life. But we didn’t have children, we both had jobs, the financial split was easy and we did the paperwork ourselves.
I married again and had children. I found looking after kids and looking after my job so much of a challenge that I quit work and almost straight away began to experience that career pessimism, identity anxiety, and plummeting self confidence that I hear other women in this situation describe. I trained in mediation and coaching, and found that I liked it much more than the law. So far so good. Kids became teenagers. Confidentiality prevents me going into detail – and anyway, objective truth doesn’t really exist.
The kids grew up and went to university and then the second husband decided he didn’t want to be married any more either. I know what you’re thinking – to lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness. This time it was different. We’d been together ages. We had kids, jointly owned property, unequal incomes, shared jokes, a shared record collection, the whole caboodle. It was much tougher, but not insurmountable and I learned a massive amount from it.
What else? People in my life I’ve found difficult, people in my life I’ve found impressive, friends who come and go, and sometimes come back. Children’s friends, children’s friends’ parents. Family, neighbours, employees (I remain a director of a company with my ex), teachers, shop assistants, pension advisors, call centre workers. And clients. You. Organisations, and individuals. You qualify me to do this work. I learn from you, your experience of the world, your expression of that experience, where you take it and what you do.
It’s wonderful, this work. And that’s the other thing that qualifies me. I love it, in a way I’ve never loved my work before. At last. I found you.