Comfort Zones

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I’ve never really been one to stay in my comfort zone for too long: though people’s attitude to me has varied between ‘what the hell are you doing that for – are you an idiot?’ and ‘good for you’.  Funny, isn’t it – how people’s reactions to the things we do can be so diametrically opposed.  Just confirms that you have to do what your own heart/ head/ senses/ conscience tell you to do, not what other people think you should do, as some people will think you are right and some – probably, if it was analyzed, about 50% – will think you are wrong.

I can’t remember the first time I stepped outside my comfort zone and did something someone thought I shouldn’t, but I do remember my father saying something along the lines of daughters doing incomprehensible, rash things like switching to degree courses in subjects such as music.  I also remember a musical friend saying with surprise, about one of my music essays, “you sounded as if you knew what you were talking about – even though I knew you had no idea what a diminished 9th was” (actually, I might have known what a diminished 9th was – I probably looked it up purely for the purposes of the essay).

Later on of course I went for a safe-ish option and became a chartered surveyor.  At that point the unemployment rate for surveyors was very low, although to become chartered as a non-cognate graduate and as a woman (shock, horror – ‘they’ didn’t even approve of women wearing trousers to work when I began my surveying career in 1986!) was more unusual.  Someone from one of the long-established West End firms wrote in response to my job request, that they might have a job going managing their fleet cars – and that they (he) thought that often it was best if people ‘stuck to their own last’.

That sort of comment was, of course, guaranteed to make me stick to becoming a chartered surveyor rather than giving up – as with the guy who I had worked with previously who said what on earth made me think I’d stick to it when I’d stuck to nothing else work-wise up until then… what made me stick to it was that I had something to prove, not only to other people but also to myself.

After about 8 years in surveying I’d had enough however and decided to chuck it all in and go to work as a holiday rep., firstly in France (where I would have liked to have stayed) and then in Norway.  My father said “You’re not to give up a well-paid secure job to become a holiday rep.”.  Did I take any notice?  I had no mortgage, no children… and left a job paying £30,000 pa for one paying about £3,000 pa.  I had a great time and have seen bits of rural France that I shall probably never see again – and I could also speak fluent French when I got back.  My French is no longer fluent, but it gave me a confidence in speaking it which I think probably also helped with, later on, learning Italian.

I fell into a comfort zone after that though – my career progressed; I bought a flat; I earned (compared to my mortgage) a lot of money.  Then I met David, settled down, had children, moved to Cumbria… life was steady.

Or was it?  Don’t you think Life has a way of surprising you?  I am well aware that it really cannot be planned for – some things you wish for do indeed happen, but the effects of them are never quite what you expect and there are all the other things which happen which you didn’t even dream of (or the things you wished for happen, but turn out then to follow a different path from the one you’d expected or hoped for).

So there I was, plodding along, doing a job, taking redundancy as I hated the job and assumed I would just walk into another one as I always had… and I ended up pregnant, aged 48/49.  The creative side of me, which had been somewhat under wraps since graduating, had started rearing its head as well: I was singing and writing and started doing more of both.  The baby arrived, and provided a huge amount of joy and a fair amount of media interest.

Then my husband left.  After a few months of adjusting to it and having unexpectedly inherited a bit of money, I found I wanted to spread my wings and enjoy my new-found freedom and my 45% child-free time.   About a year later I got a job as a surveyor again, having thought I’d never go back to it, and had the most passionate and intense love affair of my life, with a guy who tapped right into the essence of me – the creative, free me which had been trying to escape the comfort zone for so long.

And now… after the pain (I still miss him); the acceptance (my kids have to come first) and the realisation (I am a creative person, and a people person)… I am about to step out of my comfort zone again.  I have a new job as a part-time chef, and am about to start a catering course in September.  Because of time restraints it is unlikely, come September, that I shall work as a surveyor again – after 30-odd years in the profession.

But, as I said in my college interview, I have 12 to 15 years of working life left.  I want, and intend, them to be enjoyable and (therefore) successful.  On an emotional level it feels as if I’m doing the right thing; on a practical level it also makes sense as there is far more demand for chefs than there is for surveyors and I have experience (e.g. in management and also in promotion) which is transferable.  I may go ‘backwards’ initially (in terms of starting again at the bottom, having to retrain, and not earning much) but it’s in order to go forwards more.  And the opportunities and openings are enormous – I wanted to live and work in France but didn’t manage it – becoming a chef my only restraint to where I work is my children.  There’s also a whole history to how I got to this stage, but it’s not necessarily relevant: suffice to say that when a friend suggested I get a job as a chef I mulled it over and eventually realised that she was talking a lot of sense and picking up on something which had been within me for a while.

She also suggested I start a supper club, so that’s exactly what I’ve done, with the profit going to charity.  If you feel like ‘sharing’ this and encouraging friends who live in or who are visiting Cumbria to come along, it would be great if you could – I would love to get really booked up.  And guess what… my new website also has a blog!

Visit: Brampton Supper Club

(and on Facebook: Facebook page for Brampton Supper Club)

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties

– Erich Fromm

flowers for courage

Talkin Tarn

When we first moved to Cumbria a trip to Talkin Tarn each weekend was almost obligatory.  My running route of preference was the 10km from my house, along the Dandy Line and through Rowbank Woods, round the Tarn and back along the road.  The year that we had a month of snow the children were pulled around the Tarn on sledges on Christmas Day; the day I discovered I was pregnant with Edward was when I had been for a run of a couple of laps around the Tarn, told the friend I was running with I couldn’t possibly be pregnant, and got home to do a (positive) pregnancy test.  I have run around the Tarn on a dark winter’s night with a headtorch on, loving the beauty of its stillness under a black sky reflecting stars; as a family we were photographed up there for Woman & Home, David and I looking as if we loved each other although the two of us knew already that the cracks were beginning to show; and Alex learnt to cycle up there.  And the most recent triathlon I did, even though that was a few years ago now, was Talkin Tarn triathlon-became-a-duathlon (the water was freezing).

For some reason it’s not a route I have taken much over the past year or longer.  Perhaps it’s that with training for Kielder marathon I got a bit more adventurous, trying out routes along Hadrian’s Wall and even the northern Pennine Way; perhaps it’s that having discovered Talkin Fell, the hills now always seem to beckon me: the places I can run to, stand on top, and look far into the distance, to the sea and to the sky.  Or perhaps it’s just that the ‘normal’ route up to and back from the Tarn involves a mile or more on road, and I just don’t like running on roads any longer.

Perhaps it’s also that I no longer go out with David and the children to run: he can run while they cycle, or used to run with two of them cycling and one in the running buggy: I never could, getting frustrated by having to push cyclists and finding the running buggy really uncomfortable.  Now that I run on my own more often, the woods and the hills beckon.

But today for some reason the Tarn called to me.  Too tired and lazy to run all the way up there, I ‘cheated’ and drove up there and parked in the car park (free after 6pm).  I had worked at Taste of Tynedale all weekend and whilst I enjoy catering enormously (both the prep., the cooking and the customer service), it’s tiring and I had been on my feet all day both days (and chopped a copious amount of onions).  Last night when I got home I needed to go for a walk up a hill and today I wanted to get out for a short and gentle run.  The more-or-less level Tarn was the perfect option.

As I ran I thought about my weekend.  I happened to be in Hexham on Friday as well, and so I have been to Hexham for each of the past three days.  It’s a lovely town which I’ve now got to know a little better, and which I think I may visit more often.  I was working mostly with a group of 17-22 year olds, and really enjoyed it: they are so enthusiastic about life, and at 50+ and as a mother, I didn’t need to impress them nor try to be ‘cool’ as I took it for granted that I wouldn’t be.  Not being quite so bothered about what people think about me is something which has probably only really been the case for the the past few months (yes, I said months: it’s sad, but better to have got to this stage now than never).  I really admire the apparent confidence of the lovely people I was working with, and hope that they all retain it and their joie de vivre as they go through life.  They’re so refreshing: as of course are most positive, energetic, enthusiastic people.

As I ran around the Tarn I considered my surroundings too.  There have been a few changes recently, such as a family of wooden hedgehogs having replaced the old wooden dog.  Today the impressive sky contained the most amazing variety of clouds, the dark grey of the impending rain contrasting with the brightness of the sunlight which was vanishing.  As I came out from the new wooded area (which surely must add a little extra distance to a lap), the whiteness of the swans glowed against the darkening sky reflected in the lake.  And then, running through the last bit of wood, I found raspberries growing wild – not quite ripe yet but a few days and they will be (please don’t all go up there and steal them – I’d like some!).

When I got home I finally remembered to text my friend Kerry (with whom I trained for Kielder marathon) to arrange a run.  She, her husband Kevin and I are all running Kielder 10km in October and struggling to get fit enough for it, but now is a good time to start.  I’m running in aid of Medecins sans Frontieres, for the amazing work they do around the globe, often in places where they are not only saving lives but their own lives are at risk.  If you’d like to sponsor me then please follow this link to my JustGiving page…

Many thanks.