So a decision has been made, acted on and lived with for a week or so, and it feels ok, more than ok, in fact – I’m feeling good and ready to share …
This is a blog of two halves and colour coded … one is about work (and is in blue) and one is about relationship (and is in purple), so if you’re not in the mood for worky talk on a Monday morning, or if that ‘mushy stuff’ just leaves you cold, then feel free to look away now …
(Forgive me for skipping to and fro here – both of these themes have played an equal part in my decision, so I didn’t want to put one before the other)
Work – I loved teaching young people, but teaching ‘A’ level broke me – I can see that now. I recognise the scars because when there is any sniff of my having failed to complete a task or forgotten to do something, however trivial … that familiar tightness reappears in my stomach, that little wave of panic reemerges and unseats me. And it happens every time. This shows me that my robust, resilient, secure self esteem cannot make up for the damage that teaching ‘A’ level has done to my sense of competence. Being found to have failed with even the slightest expectation has become something of a phobia.
Relationship – Carol and I have been together for twenty years, and yes, that does make me feel old! I can’t even say we’ve had our ups and downs, because we haven’t. We did split up, about nineteen years and fifty weeks ago, for about eight hours, but I missed her so we were back together by the evening, and since then its been a solid, stable relationship. I love that – she’s a good egg, she really is, and we seem to have stuck it out, so nothing broken there.
So I quit teaching, for the sake of my mental health, and with my part time work from the Open University to prop us up financially, I was lucky enough to get the chance to train for a whole new career. I knew physiotherapy resonated with my values and interests, and I had a hunch that I’d be able to do it and had a fighting chance at being good at it, but I didn’t know how this hunch would develop once I started my training. It didn’t though, and now I understand the reason for this.
I’ve been reflecting recently on how relationships develop and what ‘staying together’ means – do you say ‘well done’ to a couple who have ‘stuck it out’ for so long, or ‘congratulations’ because they’ve been really lucky to have just clicked and then stayed clicked? We talk and share and challenge and ask and give as a couple, but I’m not conscious of much of this being a big task or having caused any emotional upheaval … I mean emotional at times, yes, but not big emotions or dramas – nothing that would cut it for a TV series, even just a three parter. So its been quite an easy ride, I think – and I’d call that ‘luck’.
I do think sometimes that only the slightest throwaway comment or action can change a person’s life. And if this is true, then we should be so mindful of what we say to people because one careless comment and we could throw them onto the wrong trajectory, completely unintentionally. OR … just as easily we could lift them right up and set their faces to the good side, almost without realising what we’ve done. I’ve been on the receiving end of this, and I’d like to share a couple of examples …
It was my first appraisal as an Open University associate lecturer, and not knowing what to expect, I prepared as best I could, which, if it was anything like my previous experiences in teaching were to go by, meant choose your targets wisely, because one’s standing / salary / job security depended on meeting them. One target I’d thought of was to do more student support on the phone. I explained that I didn’t feel so confident talking on the phone so had tended to support students via text or email, and that perhaps I should try to address this. My staff tutor simply said, “Well you are playing to your strengths, aren’t you?”, and saw absolutely nothing wrong with this at all. I was dumbfounded, to encounter such a supportive, blanket of warmth and affirmation – and thought what a wonderful organisation the OU is to work for. This set my face to the good side and I haven’t looked away since.
When we first starting seeing each other, Carol invited me round and cooked dinner – it was a mild curry dish with tomatoes and chick peas, and I thought it was really new and exciting – to get my main meal in a bowl, not on a plate, and it wasn’t meat and two veg or a pizza. I knew right then that life with Carol would take me onto a different path to that I’d been used to, and it was a path I wanted to explore. I’ve liked her cooking ever since, and chick peas.
In fact the hot meals that she produced all those years since, when I was coming home, starving and shattered and yet bracing myself for marking until midnight, were such a gift from Carol – she knew how revived I was (still am) by food. Each evening I would come home, and she was like my desk – a strong, stable support I could lean on, place all my ‘stuff’ on and know that this support was unwavering and undemanding. And its been like this for years. I served in the army and went away leaving her with the kids, I studied, marked, tutored, trained, and always she would provide, listen, cook, shop, massage, make tea … be my rock. How lucky was I, am I, to have that in my life?
Having been encouraged and supported so consistently as an associate lecturer, my commitment to the university has grown more and more. I have always loved the ethos of the Open University – there to include and nurture and find a way, for even the most challenged or unlikely or unwilling. I love that – the OU fits with my values about education. I can mark work really thoroughly, and I can plan tutorials slowly and carefully, without fretting about having to demonstrate X, Y, Z criteria (in fact it was an A3 sheet of boxes to be ticked) every twenty five minutes if someone ‘dropped in’ for a ‘learning walk’. I have time to do the job really well, and I doubted whether that would have been the case as a physiotherapist. Moreover I doubted if I’d achieve excellence at all in a new career that I was only seeing as a safety net.
My father didn’t raise me to be a risk taker, though. I had learned that you work hard, create a secure income and then work hard some more. Life wasn’t about winging it, quitting or following a whim. So I should pass the course, qualify as a physiotherapist and have something ‘to fall back on’ if the OU doesn’t work out. Safety nets are good.
So Carol pointed out that I was thinking with my head – and challenged me to go with my heart. She was right, in fact she usually is, and she is my safety net …
But at this point I’m wondering if this post is all getting a bit mushy … where’s the grit, the challenge, the edge, amid all the ‘my wife is wonderful, my boss is wonderful’?
Well I guess the challenge lies in payback. My wife has been the air I breathe for so long – I do love her so much, I love our life together and I love all the support she gives me, so freely, so often … and now its time for me to make up for this. Carol wants to get fit, but struggles to motivate herself … now I can help her with that. She’s working herself now, she got a job so that we could afford for me to do my masters … which means that now she’s the one coming home, tired, flagging and hungry – and so now I can feed her. I want to enable Carol to take sometimes, and I want to help her to grow, seek fulfilment and work out what her passions are and to follow them. So Carol – lean on me, my love, its time for me to commit to you …
So work wise, whilst physiotherapy ticked the boxes of a being secure job that I could probably have become competent at … still I have been an educator my whole life and education really is where my heart is, however insecure it may be at the moment. When the next modules start in October I could be working full time or not at all, but its time to stop being so afraid of risk and to make a commitment, regardless. Therefore, I’m ready to close the doors to me ‘portfolio career’ so that when the next person asks what I do, I can say, “Me?, I work for the OU, and I love it”.
So I have quit my course – I’m not going to be a physiotherapist. I love the OU and what it has done for me. Teaching broke me, but the Open University has put me back together, so thank you, Janine and Carol, for helping me to decide, and now the Open University is what I will commit to.
(Plus a bit more running, too, I suspect)