Yesterday I had a job interview for a job with an employer and regular salary. It was for the kind of job I used to do, the kind I loved, and wanted to do forever. I didn’t get the job, and as soon as I’d walked out of the interview I knew I wouldn’t. I’d flunked the questions; bluffed, blathered, and bullshitted unsuccessfully through things I should have known how to answer. And what’s more, I knew why. I hadn’t done my research. I hadn’t worked out what was important to the panel and what they might ask me. I hadn’t thought through examples to illustrate I knew how to do the job. I hadn’t just not done it, I’d positively turned my back on it. I’m sorry I wasted their time – they seem like great employers and interesting people. But it wasn’t a waste of my time and here’s why:
I worked for thirty years in jobs that “stimulate social change”, “support the disadvantaged”, “campaign social justice” and “promote equality”. I worked for maybe 10 employers during that time, as an educator, a trainer, a volunteer manager, an events manager, a fundraiser, a public relations officer, a writer, a project manager. I absolutely 100% stand by everything that stands for and I’m proud of it all. But when I walked out of that interview yesterday I knew it wasn’t me anymore.
I think I reached burnout in about 2008. I still believed in the work, I still cared, deeply, but it felt like I could no longer pull it out of the bag, I could no longer deliver. Thirteen years of ill health and single-motherhood had taken its toll, but so had 30 years of taking on all the inequality in the world and making it my role to make a difference.
I was brought up in a socially aware, politically active family. We had a responsibility not just to be decent people, good citizens, but to change the world. Or at least that’s the message I heard. No pressure then! You can see why I chose the jobs I chose; it felt like a vocation, and I didn’t know any other way of being. And then in 2010 I was made redundant, and all that was taken away from me.
What I do now – as a designer – was born out of not a drive to create, but the very prosaic need to pay the bills, and I’ve always said I’m not precious about what I do, it’s all about an income. But then yesterday I dipped my toes back in that old water, and what I have discovered today, having licked my wounds, is that what I do now, is more than money. When I sat down to draw today, pen in hand, Van Morrison on the player, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what I am. The past was good, but now, here, this is what I’m fighting for.