NINE YEARS ON

This weekend there is an anniversary to be noted in my life. Not a big one to be celebrated with cards and balloons and much levity. It will pass quietly, without fuss and be remarked upon by no one but me. But each year as it passes I think about how life might have been had I not taken that brave and, as some people thought, uncharacteristic decision almost a decade ago.

I write, of course, about my decision to leave my career behind and paddle off downstream towards who knew what leaving behind almost everything that I had known as an adult but sure in my conviction that it was the right thing to do. It was nine years ago this weekend that I astounded my friends and colleagues and left paid employment to take up the challenges of life at home with two small children, then 3 and 2. After 11 demanding, exhilarating, exhausting, fulfilling and often terrifying years of working for a large, commercial law firm, I was to change the direction of my life forever and take on something entirely new.

I had a leaving do in a bar near the office. My team, friends such as had not left already and those partners to whom I had been close came to wish me well. Other people popped in for a quick drink, anxious to ensure that yet another leaving do should not clog up too much of their Friday night. I was terribly worried that I would cry, be unable to speak, my throat thickened by rising emotion that I would be unable to control and so depart with reddened eyes leaving the impression that I was regretting my decision. I regularly express my emotion through tears and have always found the end of things difficult to face, even if I am not keen to hang on to them.
However, my fears were unfounded. I graciously accepted gifts and best wishes and breezed out into the warm Spring evening without shedding a tear. With barely a backward glance in fact.

I am me and so of course I had a plan of action. I had had my three months’ notice period to try to work out how I felt. My main worry was that the essence of me was a lawyer and if you took that away there would be nothing left. I could not remember a time when I wasn’t dreaming of being a lawyer, studying to be a lawyer or being a lawyer. I couldn’t imagine a me that wasn’t defined by what I did. (As it turned out, I was right to have this concern and it has taken a very large part of the last nine years to figure it out.) To start with, when new people asked me what I did in the real world I proudly gave them my cv. Over time, my previous achievements have become far less important and are only revealed if I feel the need to pull rank – a rare occurrence indeed.

I decided to treat my new life rather like a sabbatical and give myself three months off during which time I would not give any thought to what was to become of my career. A couple of quite big clients had said that I could take their work with me and do it from home as a consultant. I was even offered a part time job as a lawyer at the university. But I felt that I had to give this “stay at home mum” thing a proper chance to work and so, whilst I couldn’t help but read the legal press and keep my knowledge up to date, I spent the Summer in the garden making sandcastles.

By the time the Autumn came I wasn’t much further forward with my life plan but I had decided that it wouldn’t involve the law and so I rang the clients, thanked them for their faith in me and severed those ties. I then spent the following eight years submerged in babies and preschool paraphernalia only to emerge, slightly shell shocked but relatively unscathed, when my youngest started school last September.

I am still sure it was the right decision. Had I not left I would never have had my third or fourth child, a thought that I can hardly process. We would never have achieved the stability that we have created for our family and I would never have shaken off the fear that I was spreading myself way too thinly to be of any use to anyone. But each May, as the anniversary flies by, I allow myself a slightly self-indulgent moment of wistfulness as I wonder how it might have been.

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