Life. Life happens to me like it happens to everyone.
I was shy and quiet as a small child, shy and slightly less quiet as an older one. At Oxford, I think I probably gave the impression of not being shy at all, my insecurity coming across as arrogance. If you’re too scared to join in, just pretend you don’t want to. Youth, huh.
I had a serious car accident when I was 19, a couple of months before I went to University, which meant my health wasn’t great. So that was another thing I was denying. I reckon it took me a decade to get the shock of that experience out of my system, and in some ways the impact is still with me today.
I decided to become a lawyer because I wanted to help people. But I soon discovered the law doesn’t always offer much help, not to individuals in any case. Litigating anything is expensive and enormously stressful and even if a client wins, these costs rarely seem worth it. When I became involved in dispute resolution, and later in coaching, I discovered that what’s important to many people isn’t an outsider, however well qualified, determining right and wrong. What people want is a conversation about how they feel about what’s happened, what they’d like to happen, what needs they have, met or unsatisfied, and what the world might look like from the other person’s point of view. The legal system isn’t geared up for this sort of conversation.
But I digress. I got married just after I qualified, to another lawyer. A year later the relationship ended. That came as a shock, but not the end of the world. Embarrassing, bearing in mind the wedding, the presents, the dress; sad, in the context of dashed expectations and that it’s hard to be friends with someone you’ve promised to spend your life with. But we didn’t have children, we both had jobs, so the split was fairly easy and we did the paperwork ourselves.
I married again and had two children. Wonderful ones, obviously. I found looking after them and looking after my career so much of a challenge that I quit the job and almost straight away began to experience the career pessimism, identity anxiety, and plummeting self-confidence that I hear other women in this situation describe. I trained in mediation and found that I liked it much more than the law. So far so good. Kids became teenagers, an experience not unlike childbirth, painful to go through but quickly forgotten.
Then the second marriage broke down. I know what you’re thinking – to lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. We were together 26 years and this time there were kids, jointly owned property, unequal incomes, shared jokes, shared record collection, the whole caboodle. Definitely a case of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I was grateful for my skills in conflict resolution (even if I didn’t always use them).
What else? People in my life I’ve found impressive, people I’ve found difficult, friends who come and go, and sometimes come back. Children’s friends, children’s friends’ parents. Family, neighbours, colleagues, teachers, employees, shop assistants, pension advisors, call centre workers. And clients. You. Organisations, and individuals. You qualify me to do this work. I learn from you, your experience of the world, your expression of that experience, where you take it and what you do.
It’s wonderful, this work. And that’s the other thing that qualifies me. I love it, it’s the best.