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. I wouldn’t sit down, uninvited, with a group of people so I made it look like I didn’t want to. Youth, huh.
I had a bad 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 offer that much help. It’s based on the idea that there is one truth and if you look for it you’ll find it. When I became involved in dispute resolution and coaching that I realised what a complete waste of time trying to identify the truth is. I mean truth, as a set of objective factual things that happened. The sort of truth that one person believes, fervently, and that is often different to what another person believes, so they get lawyers to express their version of it in the smartest possible way, and let a judge can decide which version she or he prefers – that sort of truth. I believe that truth, as some objective finding, doesn’t really matter. What matters is how an experience impacts you, another person, the neighbourhood, the class, the family, the workplace, and how your actions might impact them all.
But I digress. I got married just after I qualified, to another lawyer. A year later my husband announced that he didn’t want to be married any more. That came as a shock, but not the end of the world. Embarrassing, bearing in mind the wedding, the presents, the dress (which I made – sewing remains one of my favourite ways to pass time); 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 easy and we did the paperwork ourselves.
I met someone else and had my children. 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 that 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. Confidentiality prevents me going into detail – and anyway, objective truth doesn’t really matter.
The kids grew up and went to university and then the second husband decided he didn’t want to be married any more too. 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. It was much harder, but not insurmountable and I learned a massive amount from it.
What else? People in my life I’ve found difficult, people in my life I’ve found impressive, friends who come and go, and sometimes come back. Children’s friends, children’s friends’ parents. Family, neighbours, employees (I am a director of a company with my ex husband), teachers, 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, in a way I’ve never loved my work before. At last. I found you.