Today I’ve come over all introspective.
Over the weekend, while drinking sophisticated cocktails with friends and suddenly noticing the bruises from that days Roller Derby scrim starting to bloom on my arms I started to ponder those decisions that you make in your life that change who you are. Then I stopped and carried on drinking cocktails till I was tipsy and went home and ate a pizza.
But today I’m pondering those moments again. Sometimes they’re big decisions, ones that you think about for ages, sometimes they’re decisions that you probably *should* have thought about for ages, but actually made on the spur of the moment, and still others are just little cumulative decisions that for some people would have made no difference, but for you made a fundamental change.
It gets a bit scary to ponder just exactly how many of those decisions there are in your life that could have led you in another direction. Today I’ve picked out just 3 of the decisions in my life that I think really made a difference in the direction my life took and how I ended up the person I am now. I’d really love to find out more about you guys too, so please take advantage of the comments and let me know some of the decisions that changed your life as well!
Dropping out of Nursing
When I was little there were only ever 3 jobs I wanted to do. Considering “Princess” was not an actual option at the careers office I was left with Nursing or Writing. Nursing seemed like the safer and more sensible perfectly mapped out route. I mean, I didn’t try that hard to find someone to publish the blatant Enid Blyton Secret Seven rip offs I wrote when I was 8 that always ended with someone having their ears boxed, but I didn’t really know how someone went about becoming “a writer”, where as Nursing came with training courses and career plans. So I did that.
I worked as a Care Assistant at a Nursing Home before starting my Nursing Diploma in 1998. My first placement was a rehab ward, which was so similar to the Nursing Home that I got quite bored and disillusioned quite quickly. I basically felt like I was doing my old job for less money and being asked to write essays about it, I hated living in shared accommodation, I HATED the early mornings and late nights that Nursing seemed to be full of and I didn’t really feel challenged by the Diploma course. I took a lot of sick time and at the end of my first year I was offered the chance to drop back 6 months and finish my course with another intake, or drop out.
I dropped out.
A friend in the same situation dropped back and is now a qualified Nurse. I don’t regret dropping out. I don’t think Nursing was for me, and even if it could have been once I’d qualified and worked my way up, I just didn’t really want to do what it takes to get there. I loved talking to patients, comforting them, supporting them and helping them through bad days, but I hated with a passion the routine that seemed to make up most of my time on wards. I think if I’d gone into a different caring profession or had more advice I could be doing something entirely different now.
I dropped out, went back home, studied for my A-Levels in evening classes while working full time at first, then part time later, and then went to university to study Media Studies. I learnt a lot about time management during that year, and it was hugely stressful, but by the time I went back to university I was better equipped to deal with it, and my choice of course was a much better fit with my temperament, and probably contributed a lot to what I do now.
Leaving my job
I talk about this at least once a year on its anniversary, because it’s the anniversary of me becoming self-employed.
Post university I ended up in an uninspiring selection of routine office and call centre jobs in order to pay the bills, and didn’t really see any way out to do anything more interesting. Then I ended up in the worst job ever with the worst boss I could imagine short of one that was actually physically abusive. It knocked my confidence and made me ill and I handed my notice in. I was encouraged to stay, but in another department, which was an improvement, and they were hugely supportive. Evil boss remained, frankly, a vindictive bully who made my life a misery whenever possible. I was excluded from department meetings that everyone else in the team attended and she put me down and criticised me in any interactions we had. In the end this culminated in me being put on disciplinary action over a personal email chat with someone else within the company, it was just one of those conversations you have to pass the day when you work in an office and contained nothing rude, offensive or inappropriate.
When it happened I spent days anxious, hiding, crying, angry at the injustice, but also terrified of facing the situation. Then there was an investigatory meeting and my inner grumpy girl rose up and thought “F**k This!”. I handed in my notice and walked out with my head held high. I walked home at about 3pm on a November afternoon, paid in the final salary cheque they’d handed me, sat down and wondered what the hell I was going to do now.
3 Weeks after I left everyone in the company got Christmas bonuses, some so big they paid off their mortgages with them. Was I sorry I walked instead of seeing the disciplinary through? Not one bit of it. They could have fired me after the disciplinary, as happened to some others involved and frankly not giving them that power over me was worth more than any bonus I *might* have received.
After I left I had no other job to go to, and I started selling pre-owned and vintage clothing online to get some money coming in. 8 years later I’m self employed, happy and confident and look back on walking out on a regular wage as one of the best things I ever did, even though it’s tough sometimes to have an unpredictable income. I can thank walking out on that job for most of the friends I now have in my life as well.
If I’d stayed, even if I’d been fired, I think I’d still be stuck in a mid level office job somewhere else, never motivated enough to even bother to make it any higher in the company and with my confidence sucked away. By walking out I made the decision to take that back and do something I was really good at.
Starting Roller Derby
Ah, I’m such a hellish cliche. You’ll hear lots of people tell you that “Roller Derby saved my life”. I won’t go that far, but it’s certainly changed a lot about me.
I’d already started running for exercise in 2012, so I’d lost a bit of weight and got fitter, but I didn’t really think of myself as the sort of person who would participate in any kind of organised sport, and the thought of joining something like a running club made my blood run cold. Then for my birthday in May 2013 a friend asked me if I’d like to go see a Roller Derby game. I’ll admit I’d never even heard of Roller Derby at that point, but they had a bar and it sounded like a fun day out, so I watched Whip It to give me a bit of an introduction, then went along.
We had a few pints, watched 2 games that day, and I was completely hooked. HOW COOL, were those girls on skates? My friend then suggested that a few of us went along to their Fresh Meat training night on a Monday. I wasn’t really sure I’d have time to commit to this stuff regularly, but I went along for moral support. A month later I’d spent loads of money I didn’t have on Roller Skates and knee pads and signed up to help out on the raffle stall at the next bout in September.
For the first time I was part of a team, and I loved it. Everyone was supportive, but it wasn’t intrusive, no one cared about what was going on outside of Roller Derby, Roller Derby was the place where none of your daily stresses mattered and you could work it all out.
As well as running, though a bit less often than I used to, I now regularly give up 8 hours a week to training, plus occasionally extra to help with coaching. I cross train at Derby specific training sessions another 2 hours a week and I put in hours outside that as the leagues Marketing Officer. I’m fitter, more confident and I’ve changed my hair style specifically because wearing a helmet made curls more difficult! After nearly 2 years I now skate in competitive bouts as part of the Norfolk Brawds B Team, the Jolly Dodgers.
Roller Derby was the first time in my life I didn’t give up something just because I wasn’t good at it straight off. I loved it, and being part of a team kept me coming back. I’m nowhere near the best at it, and I never will be, but it’s a team sport, and being a good part of the team is more important than being the best indvidually.
Roller Derby taught me self reliance and resilience, it taught me to keep trying, even if I didn’t get something straight away. It built on lessons I’d already started to learn from running and taught me that you don’t have to be the best at everything, or even anything. It taught me to really be a good team mate, to recognise when people might be struggling and to offer support, and it taught me that sometimes it’s ok to admit that you are having a hard time with something yourself and to accept support from others.
So there’s a little insight into the decisions that changed the path of my life. What decisions have you made that changed yours?