Three years ago, I was approaching my thirtieth birthday. I was living in rural Lincolnshire, eight years into my career in the Royal Air Force. Six months previously, I had finished my Masters degree at Kings College London and I had loved it. I loved the energy of the city, the hustle and bustle, the vibrancy. I loved studying full-time, devoting my time to reading and spending my afternoons in deep discussions with my class mates (I know, super geek!). I particularly loved writing my thesis, researching how the British military was interacting with local women in Afghanistan, understanding their stories and how women’s rights are affected by conflict. So it was with quite some bump that I found myself back in an office in the middle of nowhere.
Over those months, I slowly started to realise that I wasn’t comfortable in my life anymore. I mean, it was a good life. I had a job I generally enjoyed and that I was good at, I had great colleagues and was living with a friend in a gorgeous house that would have inevitably cost more than five times as much to rent in London. But something just wasn’t right.
It took me more than a year to finally decide that the RAF wasn’t the right place for me anymore. I didn’t feel that it offered me the professional opportunities and satisfaction I was looking for. At the same time, I was making sacrifices in my personal life that I wasn’t prepared to continue making as I entered my thirties. It really wasn’t an easy decision to leave a secure career with good prospects and a lifestyle that was all I had known my entire life (I grew up in a military family too). All of this without knowing what I was jumping into.
I just knew that I felt trapped, kind of claustrophobic and scared. Not scared of the unknown but absolutely terrified that I would wake up in ten years time and regret staying. At the time, these feelings were really difficult to reconcile; did feeling like this mean that I had made a terrible mistake at the tender age of twenty-one? Had I wasted the first decade of my working life? But I slowly came to terms with it all and realised that I had a wonderful career in the RAF. What was right for me in my twenties just wasn’t right for the next ten years of my life. And that’s okay. I know I’m not the same person that I was at twenty-one and that’s a really good thing! So it was time for something different. Time for me to feel like me, the whole multi-faceted, complex, contradictory me.
Fast-forward a year, and I was returning from a no-notice and very difficult six month deployment in Qatar. Coming home, wearing uniform for what I realised later would be the last time, I had absolutely no idea what I would do next. I mean, I had a few general ideas: I wanted to be in London (partly for the city’s energy, partly because I really wanted to fins a good yoga studio again!); I wanted to help further women’s rights; and I wanted to have a ‘cool’ interesting life. Not much to go on, really! So I did what anyone with a few months’ paid leave and a few thousand pounds in the bank: I packed my bags, jumped on a plane and spent a couple of months backpacking my way around south-east Asia (this was when I first got into blogging so if you want to read about that trip, head over here).
Coming back to the UK, I moved back home with my parents. At the ripe old age of thirty-one, that wasn’t without its challenges but I really appreciated getting to know them as people and establishing a proper adult relationship with them, not to mention super-cheap rent for a few months! I did some work at the BBC and at a think tank. It was all enjoyable but just not quite what I was looking for. There were a couple of times when it seemed like everything was about to work out perfectly but then it would fall apart at the last minute. Add on a bit of heartache for good measure and by the end of the Autumn, I was feeling pretty despondent. Rock bottom (and I use that loosely – I know how good my life still was) came when I found myself applying for a job at Goldman Sachs; there’s obviously nothing wrong with working in finance but it was so far away from what I had set out to do. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t really see that; I felt low and desperate. But as it so often does, life through me a lifeline – the chance to go and lead a team of young volunteers in Bangladesh for nearly five months. Looking back, I feel like I made that decision instantly but, thinking about it properly, I remember being really torn. For the first time in my working life, since joining the military, I had really choice and freedom about what I did but, man, was that terrifying! What if I got it wrong?! After consulting some very good friends and mentors, I called up the HR woman at Goldman and had a conversation that she mustn’t have all that often: thanks very much but no thanks, I’m off to volunteer in a developing country for a few months!
And that was that. One of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, living in a small rural community in the Bangladehsi countryside, learning to speak Bengali, living without any hot water, and making a difference to the lives of the women and girls in our community. There’s far too much to talk about here but you can read all about it over here!
So that was a year ago. Once again, I came home with lots of ideas and enthusiasm but no real plan. I decided that unemployment meant house purchase was out of the picture for a while so I gave myself six months and a chunk of my savings to see what I could make happen. And I just did stuff. I went to festivals and hung out in parks. I taught on Hostile Environment courses, helping NGO workers prepare for trips overseas. I wrote articles for journals and for VSO on youth volunteering and women’s rights. I had so many conversations, not knowing where they would lead. I became part of an amazing community, thanks to Escape the City (you’ll no doubt hear a lot about these guys in coming posts). And then, at the end of the summer, it kind of happened. I got offered a short-term consultancy gig in Beirut (the fourth country I would work in in eighteen months) with the possibility of a permanent job back in London. The same week I was due to sign the contract, I took a meeting, one like many others I had taken in the previous months. Serendipity struck. I went back for an interview the following week for a post they just happened to be recruiting for, got offered the job, and here I am!
I’m four months in the new job as I write this in Febuary 2016. I am very pleased to report that I managed to get pretty much exactly what I set out to – I have no idea how! It feels bloody amazing! The new job has been incredibly challenging (again, a story for another time) and the last couple of years have been an absolute emotional roller coaster. But here I am. Happy, healthy and with a life I love full of things I am passionate about. Who knows where I’ll be in another year but I very much hope you’ll follow the ride on my little blog…maybe I am just another thirty-something in London but I think I have a pretty interesting story to tell…
May your life be filled with light and love today xx