‘She hadn’t learned to look for the difference yet between what one did and who one was. Hadn’t even known there was a difference.’ (Julia Pierpont, Among the Ten Thousand Things)
I’ve a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I think I’m too clever for the job I’m doing. I work in an administration office of a university. I kind of fell into administration – who doesn’t? Nobody grows up thinking ‘ooh, I really want to be an administrator’. I suppose the problem was that I never knew what I did want to do. Still don’t. And so I did an English degree, because it was my best subject and I loved to read. When I finished that, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I did an MA in Literary Studies. Man, I know how to read books.
Fellow students were progressing into careers in journalism, publishing and libraries. All things I would have loved to do. I didn’t pursue them because, looking back, I thought I wasn’t good enough, I was afraid to try. All of those are careers which are difficult to get into, jobs often difficult to come by; how could I be one of the successful ones? I was never particularly ambitious; and so , drifting from one low key position to the next, 16 years after leaving university, here I am working as a PA to a senior academic in a university. Deep in the ‘pink ghetto’ of administration. I dread meeting new people and the inevitable ‘what do you do?’ I want to be proud of my answer. I want to develop, maybe try something new, answer that question without mumbling into my sleeves. But the thought of moving out of this comfortable little patch I have made for myself terrifies me. I talk my way out of any opportunity which might come my way.I want to be ambitious, I should be ambitious.
And this is where thinking, pushing and probing a little bit more I come to the nub of it. Why do I feel I should be ambitious? Why do I feel unable to push myself out of my comfort zone professionally?
I am exhausted. I am pushed to my limits mentally and emotionally and physically. The demands of family life are taking their toll.
Myself and my husband both work full-time; he is studying part-time, two evenings a week. We have a two year old and a six year old. I’ve hardly had an unbroken night sleep in six years. My son has been presenting challenging behaviour for over two years and has just been diagnosed with ASD/ADHD. We are under pressure financially, over half of my salary goes on childcare, and over half of my husband’s on rent. We don’t have a lot of support with the kids. My family are in the UK. I don’t have a lot of friends. We are renting, we can’t afford to buy in Dublin, and have moved house 5 times in 7 years.
And yet, I feel I should be doing more, that this is not enough for one person. I should also have a dazzlingly impressive career as a …….. (fill in the dots, you’re guess is as good as mine.) I am embarrassed that after five years I haven’t progressed from my PA role in the university and that I should have moved to a managerial position by now, as I have seen colleagues do. I like my job, but I am unchallenged and capable of more. But honestly, I don’t feel that right now I would be capable of doing well in a more challenging role. I just don’t have the energy, I have nothing more to give. But again, my critic whispers, I should be able to do this, I should be able to give more. Should, should, should. Aren’t thousands of women experiencing the same as me and pursuing demanding careers? Why can’t I do it?
I don’t know. Maybe none of those women have children with ASD, maybe they haven’t moved house nearly once a year for the last few years. Maybe they have loads of money and a supportive family close by. But maybe not. Maybe they are bereaved, maybe they are sick, maybe their husband has had an affair, maybe they are having an affair. I will never know. And they will never know about me. We don’t know what is going on behind the exterior people choose to present.
‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ (Henry Thoreau)
That’s why for me blogging and social media is so engaging; I have read so many tweets and blogs and said ‘yes, yes, me too, that’s me’. Marian Keyes was commenting on an article about Sheridan Smith and her recent withdrawal from her latest show due to her father’s illness. She said, ‘it takes great courage to say I’m not able, not right now.’ Yes, yes, I thought me too. Also on Twitter , the journalist Sophie Heawood quoted a phrase from a talk by Sheryl Sandberg on being a single parent after the death of her husband,
“Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.”
Yes, yes, I thought me too.
And so I am saying it. I am too overwhelmed at home to push myself further at work. Not now. Not since my son was born six years ago. If people look in and think I am unambitious or that I have a mammy job (yes, someone has said that to me) then so be it. They don’t know what I know. So when people ask me what I do, I’ll just answer them truthfully and without embarrassment, knowing that it is not all of me, not by a long shot.