I never really knew what I wanted to ‘be’ when I left school and in my day, girls were really just geared to be secretaries or housewives. There is nothing wrong with either and I have indeed, been both. All I knew, way back then, is that I wanted to be ‘something’ and I wanted the ‘something’ to make me feel good about what I was doing, and to do what I was ‘doing’ well.
I left school at 16 because I was offered a job in an office. I and another girl, were recommended by our school principal, to a local plumbing contractor, as ‘good candidates’ for the position. After our interviews, I was offered the job and took it with both hands. I hadn’t even had my exam results (Inter-Cert) so I figured, I must be good, as he offered me the job on my merit, rather than my qualifications. This, indeed, made me feel good. The year was 1981 and lots of people left school at 16 to go to work. It wasn’t really a big deal.
I found the job quite lonely and even boring sometimes as it was just me in the office, while the boss and his apprentice were out fulfilling contracts. I was there to answer the phone, type any letters and send out the invoices. I was even sent to his accountants to learn about v.a.t and all other essentials needed to do the profit and loss accounts. This wasn’t quite the idea of ‘being something’ that I had envisaged, but I had a sense of pride and took pride in my work. I also left home and rented a bedsit nearby, so I could easily get to work. My parents lived 7 miles from the town and our village didn’t have such a thing as a bus service. I had no option but to move into town to get to my job.
Since that first job, I have had many many jobs both in Ireland and in the UK. I can honestly say I have ‘drifted’ into most of them. I first got involved in legal office work (law firm) when I went back to live in England, the place of my birth and home until I was 14). I was 19 years old at this stage, and my best friend, from my childhood, got me a 2 week stint as an audio typist in the firm that she was working in. Another secretary was going on her annual 2 week holidays and my dear friend recommended me to cover her leave. I was terrified but excited too. I had never done audio typing before, but it was work and I needed the money. I lasted the two weeks and was given a good recommendation by the Solicitor that I worked for. That was my first taste of working in a law firm and I really enjoyed it. Years later I went on to not only work as a legal secretary but also to study and practice law.
As an adult, I have studied a lot and changed direction a lot! The thing is, I always need to ‘do something’. In order to ‘fill me up’ I need to feel that I ‘am worth something’. I need to feel that what ‘I do’ means ‘something’. I’m not the sort of person that can just go to work and say ‘that will do’. I have to make sure, whatever it is, that I have done my best at it, because, it matters. Right? There has to be a value, for ourselves and for the task in hand. It has to matter, to someone, to something, to us?
Having said that, all that we value comes at a cost and we must determine, at what cost is what we do, worth it? Whether it be leaving our children with a childminder, to go to work so that we can put that food on the table or take them away for a holiday. Some people work so hard and such long hours that ultimately it could cost them their marriage, quality free time or their mental health. Recently in the media, what cost had actors and actresses have to pay to get to where they wanted to be? How many other people in every other profession or industry had a high price to pay, for a days work. In their working relationships how easy is it to Relay, Shun, Ship what we do and what we don’t want? Of course, some of these scenarios are quite extreme, but not unlikely or unheard of.
Four years ago I was studying (yet again) for a degree, working part-time in my daughters pre-school and working part time in my salon. I was also (and still am) work ing 24/7 as a housewife and mother to my two remaining children at home (my foster children), and when the need arose, looked after my grand children. Some days I would wake up, with a start, and think ‘where should I be today, the school, the salon, complete the assignment or mind one of the children’. It was a full on busy, busy time and I was always chasing my tail. I wasn’t now enjoying any of it and didn’t feel the value in it. I began to feel ‘that will do’ when I did something, and ‘that will do’ attitude began to make me feel bad, so what else could I do, but change direction. I completed the degree and God knows how but, passed with flying colours.
I finally decided to take a complete ‘year off’ from working (apart from in the home) and gave myself permission to ‘just be’ a housewife and mother. I needed to readjust and re evaluate what it was I wanted to do. Sure I have a new degree, but I need a job to fit in with the family, and in a social care line of work, that would be a challenge as my other half works shifts, so that had to be factored in. So for the last 3 years I have worked as a volunteer twice a week in a charity shop (along side my 24/7 job). I have been at my (grown up) children’s beck and call and my parents’ beck and call, when needed to step in and help with grandchildren/lifts/hospital appointments etc etc.
What this often translates to is ‘drop what you had planned your service is required’. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children, grand children and parents. I love my life (most of the time) and I have a certain amount of freedom and flexibility in my life. There are times though, when being the ‘beck and call girl’ is just too much. The hours are not defined, the structure of the day changes, the plans go out of the window and the unwanted feelings of guilt and sometimes resentment can be a burden and a heavy weight to carry.
I look, from time to time, for paid work, only part time, to fit in with the family and the other half’s shifts. It’s that constant need again, to ‘be something’, something other than the ‘beck and call girl’. The trouble with being the ‘beck and call girl’ is that feeling of being viewed as someone who ‘doesn’t work’. Charity work is not a ‘proper job, you don’t even get paid’ sort of scenario! If I did get a ‘proper job’ what would they all do then? They would of course survive and they too would find a new direction – no one is indispensable and at the end of the day, its all in a days work!