Group dynamics

I have just come back from a classic car weekend away to Spa racetrack in Belgium, staying just over the border in Monschau, Germany.

A tour company organised all the travel and hotel arrangements, plus entry to the racetrack. Suggested routes and itineraries were provided and the rest was up to the participants .

We booked onto the trip with friends who in turn invited others, which made for a little group of 6 couples. Two of the couples I hadn’t met before. One participant brought his new girlfriend.

The weekend was eventful and interesting, as such occasions usually are. Inevitably I observed and reflected, as I do. Ergo, blog fodder is born.

For starters, on the way down, one of the classic cars has a problem. Not unusual, in my experience. In fact, I’ve come to expect it around these aged motors. I make sure to dress appropriately for hanging around on the roadside, incase my partner’s car proves to be the weakest link, as often happens. As you may be picking up, I don’t share my partner’s passion for classic cars, but I go along, “for the ride”, occasionally, because I know it makes him happy.

We pull off at the nearest service station, where the men and, to a degree, one woman, indulge their passion for poking around in car engines and talking incomprehensible car speak. I switch off and eat too many travel sweets, so my teeth tingle.

Anyway, an hour or so passes and still no diagnosis from the car doctors, though lots of theories. Bits of the car come out. I’m thinking how much I would like to get back on the road, as we are only half way and if we delay much longer, we’ll hit rush hour traffic and be quite late arriving at our hotel. My partner is starting to agree with me, but reminds me we are a group and must stick together. Really?

Another hour or so passes and I’m now quite antsy.  If it had been my partner’s car that  broke down, I would have made people drive on because I hate to be a nuisance, feel terrible about spoiling other’s fun and am not good at accepting selfless help from others.

After more than 2 hours, everyone in the group agrees that no-one can fix the car and the owner couple must get breakdown recovery either onwards to the hotel or backwards to the UK, depending on the car problem. Bummer for them, and they take it very well. I’m impressed. My partner and I would have been screaming at each other by now.

Off we go and travel for about another hour or so. A few folk want to pull off for refreshment. I assume this means a drink and a snack, but discover people are ordering full meals, even though we are planning to have dinner on arrival at the hotel. More delay. Time marching on. I just want to get to our destination, shower and eat something savoury.

Eventually we go back to the cars. One won’t start. I saw that coming. More car doctor stuff and car speak (you’re getting why I don’t share partner’s car passion, right?). General consensus – it’s a problem with the car battery and jump leads are required to start it. No-one has any, not even my partner, who generally carries around a garage in the boot of his car.

I see another 2 hours of waiting around by the motorway, so I think, what can I do to help? Off I go around the service station, asking other users if they have jump leads. Not easy, as few speak English, and my French (as we are in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium) is not up to the description of jump leads. No matter, I will fall back on the fail-safe option of sign language.

So around I go, miming the action of putting jump leads on a battery. People shuffle away from me, with worried expressions. No matter, I persevere, and eventually a Polish lorry driver rummages in the locker of his truck cab and pulls out a pair of jump leads. Bravo to him! The leads are applied between my partner’s car and the crock car, which jumps back in to automotive life. I get a group pat on the back and feel quite pleased with myself. On y va!

We eventually get to the hotel, late and, in the case of those who did not take on food fuel, very hungry and a bit jaded. Guess what? The first breakdown car is there before us. They got recovered to a garage and a clever mechanic fixed them straight up. They did not stop again, as we did, and so beat us to it. They had already had a refreshing beer or two, by the time we arrive. To crown it all, we were so late, the hotel restaurant was closed and we had to walk down into the town to find somewhere to eat.

It takes all I’ve got, not to have a hissy fit, at this point. I have a fierce conversation with myself. Why did we wait around all that time? Why did we not drive off sooner, when it was clear the problem could not be fixed by amateur car doctors? Why did we stop so long again, so that we were even more delayed? Finally, I said to myself, look what happens when you try to help other people and go with the group flow against your personal will. You’re with me on this, right?

Well, here’s what followed. Those of us who hadn’t eaten earlier, made our way into the town of Monschau. We found a cracking pub/restaurant, called the Zum Haller, with a great atmosphere and jolly, helpful staff. Later we were joined by breakdown couple 1, who insisted on buying everyone a drink by way of thanks and apology for the time lost. During the weekend, this lovely couple put effort into organising stuff for the group. They were humorous and sociable, and I was pleased to get to know them.

On the Saturday, I decided to miss a day at the races in favour of exploring the attractive and interesting town of Monschau. One of my friends in the group accompanied me and another lady in the group also spent the day, doing something different. We re-grouped in the evening for a meal together, organised by one of the couples. On Sunday, we all went to the races, split off in a few smaller groups, then all met up for dinner and dancing in the evening and had a great time together. The group dynamic easily accommodated individual choices as well as group activity.

Reflecting on the weekend, as we travelled back, I decided that it had been a success. In philosophical mood, I decided this had something to do with the group itself being successful. Each couple had contributed something to the group dynamic e.g navigating on behalf of the group, making suggestions and arrangements around eating together, buying drinks and, in the case of one couple, buying a birthday card for one group member, whose birthday fell during the trip.

Although I’d had to ignore some personal preferences in favour of group activity and this had sometimes seemed, unfair, I gained as much, if not more, than I gave up. Some personal sacrifice had contributed to overall good. Were we, in fact, a micro society, and was this how societies can become successful? It’s decades since I read Plato’s Republic and I couldn’t make much sense of it, but I do recall he had something to say about how societies shake down together. It’s stretching it a bit, I know, to apply Platonic philosophy to a classic car weekend, but I had lots of time to ponder on the way home!

Of course, it could have been a different story if we’d had one or more people who were a complete pain in the a**.  How would that have worked out? I’ll probably get to find out, as there will be more of these trips. Perhaps more blog fodder for another day?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was meeting for the first time. Certain people within the group brought us together. Everybody knew somebody but didn’t know everyone. It was a successful weekend because we all got along pretty well. There were no clashes and I think everyone got what they wanted out of the weekend. Some people, including me, did something different from most of the group for some of the time. Harmony prevailed and there was talk of us doing something similar again in the future.

Certain events of the weekend were organised and put in place by the tour company, but with scope for people to do different things and please themselves. The plan was for us all to travel to the holiday destination together, to visit the track together and also to socialise together during the course of the weekend.

This sort of arrangement inevitably throws up the need to discuss things like, where to eat, what time to set off for things. People put forward suggestions and the group has to decide what will happen.

Jobs To Be Done

On leaving my job, four years ago, I had 2 main objectives. One was to venture into different worlds. The other was to try and correct some personality defects that have lived with me for rather a long time.

In pursuit of objective 1, here are some of the things I have done so far:

  • Become a dog mummy for the very first time, having never had any pets
  • Found a part time job in the health and social care sector, which is very different to the legal world I once inhabited
  • Improved my IT skills. Setting up my blog was a major achievement for me
  • Ventured into social media which I previously shunned, partly due to ignorance
  • Become a blogger
  • Taken on a house refurbishment project with my partner in which we have done most of the work ourselves
  • Signed up to do volunteer work for a mental health charity

None of this is earth shattering, but I’m quite pleased with how it’s going so far. I have lots more I still want to do. This brings me on to objective number 2.

My personality defects are many and varied, but one of the first ones I wanted to tackle was the way in which I deal with Jobs To Be Done.

In my professional life, I was reasonably good at making lists, prioritising tasks and meeting deadlines. I was able to get through jobs, fairly methodically and in good time. On the home front, however, it’s a different story and I feel that I’m always chasing my tail and getting nowhere, to use a doggie metaphor.

Having left a job in which I had to record everything I did in 6 minute units, I am loathe to regiment myself in that way again. So I don’t make actual “To Do” lists, though I do carry around a list of jobs for the day, in my head. The trouble is, I allow myself, daily, even hourly, to be diverted from the jobs for the day. I will find something that I think I must do before anything else, so my daily “head” list gets totally mashed up. Then guess what? Yep, I think you can see what’s coming. I get to the end of the day and find I haven’t done half the jobs I intended to. I then feel (i) dissatisfied with self and (ii) a bit stressed that my “To Do” list is almost as long as when I started the day. Often I get that overwhelmed feeling that there are more pressing jobs for me to do than I will ever have time to complete.

I then repeat the whole process the next day, as well reminding myself that I now only work part-time, I don’t have children and so what the hell am I doing with all my time? To add to my shame, I now realise that women with children and jobs and pets seem to do a lot more than me and write a daily blog. How does that even happen?

Last Monday, I started all over again with my “head” list. I decided to put less on it, in the hope that I would complete the list. There were quite a lot of boring domestic jobs on there. Surprise, surprise, I did not get to the large pile of ironing that was beginning to form a tower-like structure in my spare bedroom. Much worse than that, I did not phone the family friend, who needs support, and who I have been meaning to call for weeks. A pretty poor showing, I think you’d agree.

So this week, I have been thinking about the problem and also the blog I will write about it. The hour or so I spend walking the dog each day, is a good time for this and I think I may have had a bit of a light bulb moment this week. I think the problem may lie in my attitude to Jobs To Be Done. In particular, I think I attribute too much importance to minor league jobs e.g the ironing and other domestic chores. Of course, these jobs must be done and I should trust myself to get them done in a reasonable time. Some jobs, and it’s not really a job, but a pleasure, are much more important e.g phoning the family friend. As I write this, I realise it’s not rocket science and anyone reading this might wonder what is wrong with my head. In my state of enlightenment, I would respond to that, that it’s sometimes the simple stuff that is the hardest to get right.

Something else that has dawned on me, as I hoof along with the hound, is that there comes a time in life when you have to accept who you are and stop beating yourself up about who you’re not. After 57 years on this planet, I think I need to ease up on that metaphorical rolling pin that I keep hitting myself on the head with when I think I have failed myself. I wish I could have said, to my 26 year old self, that life doesn’t come along in bite size chunks and I can’t always control the chaos, hard as I try. It’s important to realise what’s important and to deal with that. The rest gets done when it gets done. Easier said than done, but I’m going to try and focus on working on my attitude rather than on my Jobs To Be Done.

I wonder if anyone else struggles with this sort of stuff and how they deal with it? How on earth do the women with children/jobs/blogs/pets and more, deal with it all? You have my total admiration, though I think I will have to stop comparing, as that exercise always leads me to the metaphorical rolling pin. Another lesson learned perhaps?

As I write, it occurs to me that I’ve found dog and blog therapy. Love it! That sounds like a topic for another blog……………

 

I do love to be beside the seaside (or view from my motorhome sofa)

We’ve been away for the past couple of weeks. Me, my partner and our dog, all together in the motorhome we bought a couple of years ago.

If you’d told me, thirty odd years ago, that I would one day enjoy holidays in a motorhome, I would have snorted at you, derisively. Back then, I thought motorhomes and caravans were for middle-aged and older folk who lacked a sense of adventure. Well, hey, how time flies and here I am, very middle-aged myself. Though not the most adventurous person I know, we have so far been through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany and Denmark. Last Christmas and New Year, we took the motor home down to Spain for a month and there have been several mini-tours around the UK, most recently in Cornwall and the south-west. Our 2 year old Labrador accompanies us wherever we go. We all have a jolly good time.

When planning a trip, I try to choose a variety of locations, but at some point, I am always drawn to the sea. Having read a few interesting blogs recently, on the “nature/nurture” theme, I have come to the conclusion that we are drawn to places where we found happiness in our formative years. In my case, I was born and brought up in seaside towns and lived beside the sea until I went away to university, at 18. As a child, most of my school holidays were spent happily playing on the beach or in the sea. In my teenage years, my adolescent angst was eased by the big skies, the vast expanse of sea and the forgiving, soft sand of the beach.

So I chose Cornwall for our Spring break, as it is noted for its fine coastline. I went there with my parents, when I was 15 (no, not in a motorhome or caravan, incase you’re wondering). I didn’t want to be on holiday with my mum and dad, at that age, and boy, did I make that clear. Every photograph of me on that holiday has me looking glum or scowling. I decided it was time to revisit Cornwall, this time with more grace and appreciation. It turned out to be a cracking choice. So here is a quick “big-up” for Cornwall and I’m not being paid to plug.

Wild and rugged coastline, tempered by a variety of vegetation along the shoreline and coastal path. Mediterranean coloured sea:-

 

Gorgeous and extravagant gardens, including The Eden Project.

Culture at the fabulous Tate Modern St Ives, where views of the Atlantic Ocean provide a backdrop to some wonderful art.

Oh and not to forget the cream teas, Cornish pasties and Cornish crab.

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I must also mention the wonderful Shalikabooky cafe right on Pendower Beach. Again, no incentives for me to do so. The food is simple, but delicious and the lovely owner has an eco-friendly business culture, avoiding single use plastics. The location and view from the patio garden are to die for.

View from Shalikabooky CafeShalikabooky Cafe

Who knew motorhoming could be such fun??!!

 

 

 

Measuring my mortality

pexels-photo-102107.jpegThe other day I received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions, informing me that I would receive my state pension at the age of 66 years and 8 months.

What to make of this news? Should be I glad that I am still 10 years from being a pensioner or should I worry that there will be no money left in the pension pot by the time my turn comes to draw upon it? Worse than that, should I worry that I may not live long enough to receive the pension? Gloomy thought, that one.

Apart from my state pension, I have a personal pension, which I set up when I was 26. At the time, I was given projections for the eventual payout. Most of what I was told went completely over my head and the written information I was given would have foxed Stephen Hawking, God rest his soul. I didn’t give my pension a lot of thought. After all, I was decades away from being of pensionable age and could not possibly imagine what I, or the world I lived in, would be like when pension day came.

So the years rolled by, in the blink of an eye. I got myself an Independent Financial Adviser to help me translate the rainforests of pension statements and summaries which struggled through the the letter box, once a year. On my IFA’s advice, I continued to make monthly payments into my pension. It was much more than I wanted to pay, but I was assured it was necessary for me to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Fortunately, I have survived to the age when I can draw on my private pension and I thank God for that. There is now a pot of money, which has to last as long as I do. The pot doesn’t have a secure lid which means that money can pour out of it if something bad happens in the world or, more precisely, if the money men (and some women) in charge of pensions think that something bad is going to happen. They may be right or they may be wrong and getting their knickers in a twist, but money will pour out of my pension pot anyway and there’s really not much I can do about that. Money does slosh back in again, but you never know when that will be and it never seems to come back in at the rate at which it poured out. Either way, the money men (and some women) will charge you, even though they have not secured your pension pot with a lid tight enough to retain what’s in there. Theoretically, at least, you could lose the entire contents of your leaky pot.

So it turns out that pensions are a bit of a gamble from start to finish. Not only do you not know exactly how much might be in that rusty, leaking old pot, but you don’t know how long you will live to dip into it. This is when it all starts to get a bit absurd because you have to try and figure out your prospects of longevity. Of course there are actuarial figures to help you, but these figures relate to notional people and I don’t know any of those. I know that my dear old mum and dad survived into their 90s, God bless their beloved souls, but that doesn’t guarantee that I will follow in their aged footsteps. Their parents and my grandparents, died much younger. A very dear friend, who was younger, fitter, slimmer and had a much healthier lifestyle than me, died in her late 40s. She was the last person I would have expected to die young.

Apart from that, there are hideous, random events which no-one could foresee and these are happening every day, all around us. I could just as easily be caught up in one of those, as the next person.

So here in my middleish years, I must regularly confront my own mortality in order to determine (i) when I can draw on my pension and (ii) how much I should take. All the while the money men (and some women) move my pot around, allowing the lid to slip off, from time to time, with unfortunate consequences. I should make it clear here that I’m not being flippant about ageing and dying. Facing up to one’s own demise is a truly serious business and one which I may return to, in future posts, on a more serious basis. This post is directed to one of life’s absurdities, as I see it. Having been a fairly careful person, all my life, and very risk averse, it looks like I’m turning to gambling in the later stages of my life. Too bad that, because I’ve never been a gambler.

As for the state pension, well I appreciate that the government is trying to help people plan for their old age and give them certainty. For me, there’s a rich irony in the fact that the state pension is right up there with some of the most uncertain and imponderable features of life.

I’m not complaining (much) and I have a lot to be thankful for. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry.

Better go now and get on with honing my poker skills…..

 

 

 

 

Critically thinking

thinking-thinking-work-man-face-60061.jpegWhat is true? What is nuanced fact? What is false?

Who knows any more?

The more news I listen to and watch, the more I suspect that I am not getting to the truth of the matter.

Back in the day, when I was 26, I used to read The Times daily, maybe watch one BBC news bulletin per day and I felt that was sufficient for me to be properly informed. Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t spend a lot of time questioning the truth of what I was told.

Then along came 24/7 news channels and, of course, social media and I was overwhelmed by the variety of newsfeeds.

Even before “fake news” became a headline in itself, I suspected that I was being manipulated by the media. I came to realise that I was being fed the news which journalists and news editors chose to report.  They decide what makes the big stories of the day. Moreover, the style of reportage has changed from a largely factual presentation to one which includes commentary and opinion from “special correspondents” and “experts”. They frame issues, often with a negative bias, which they then use to inform their questioning of those on whom they are reporting.

Does any of this matter? Well, I think it does. That’s because it influences the way I think and the way I vote. Do I really think what I think, or am I being led to a set of conclusions which may be erroneous?

Recently, I listened to a programme on BBC Radio 4 which was discussing “critical thinking”, defined, in Wikipedia, as:-

“the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement” and “an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation.”

I learned that critical thinking used to be a curriculum subject in some schools, in the UK, but not any more. Another good idea gone west then. A generation or two of kids loses the opportunity to learn how to sift and weigh the information that comes at them and to make their own balanced appraisal.

Having said that, I have grounds for optimism. The BBC recently launched BBC iReporter, which uses an online interactive game to help young people in the UK to identify “fake news” . This is part of a broader programme, being run by the BBC, to help 11-18 year olds identify fake and false news stories, by developing their critical thinking and media literacy skills. The BBC has a vested interest in fighting back against fake news  because of the huge decline in global audiences’ trust in news overall. So I’m not alone in my scepticism then.

More encouraging still, I have seen for myself, without the need for any “expert” commentary, that there appears to be a generation of teenagers coming through who seem to have very mature heads on their shoulders. I’m thinking particularly of the kids who were caught up in the recent shooting incident in Florida. Every one of them, that I have seen, who spoke about their experience and their attitude to gun laws spoke rationally, and in a balanced way, giving their reasons for thinking as they do. Whether they are right or wrong in their view is not really the point. Of course people will differ in their opinions. What matters is the ability of these kids to gather evidence and information, to consider it calmly and objectively and then to arrive at their view. Opinions formed by way of a process of objective evaluation and analysis, should be and are capable of being respected, even if differing opinions result. What a difference that could make to decision making.

Similarly I was heartened to read LA’s post, They were better, in her blog “Waking up on the wrong side of 50.” She writes about her daughter’s reaction to not winning a mock trial competition in which she participated. Her daughter is ambitious and keen to succeed as a lawyer, but was able to review her own performance objectively and conclude that the winning team were just better than hers on the day. I think that’s admirable. I used to be a lawyer and I’m not sure I was ever that good at objectifying my view of my own performance. If the teenagers of today can learn or be taught to think critically and can maintain the confidence and ability to sift truth and fiction through an objective process of analysis and reasoning, then I feel hope for better things to come when these kids take their turn at running the show.

I think I just thought critically.

 

 

 

Stash the trash

Rubbish dump March 2018

This is the sight that greeted me on my dog walk the other day. A dump of about 30 empty plastic cider bottles left on a country path. I couldn’t believe it!

Littering is not new. Our streets and pavements have been festooned with it for as long as I can remember. Shame on me that it hasn’t weighed upon my consciousness as much as it should have until I got a dog, a couple of years ago. Since then, I have been out and about daily, walking along bridleways and country paths, whilst exercising my dog. My eyes and senses have been simultaneously exercised by the sun glinting on multi-coloured crisp and sweet packets, by the patter of raindrops on drink cans, by carpets of burst helium balloons draped in hideous technicolour over ground and shrubs and a veritable tsunami of plastic bottles, as pictured above.

Feeling ashamed of my complacency about my littered environment, I presented myself at my local council’s offices and, by prior arrangement, collected a litter picker and roll of plastic bags (recyclable, I believe). Since then, I have gone out, a couple of times a week, armed rather menacingly with my litter picker, to free some of my local countryside of its litter scourge. On the days when I am not lengthening one arm by dragging round a heavy bag of other people’s rubbish, I try to pick up and bin one piece of litter, whilst I’m out with the dog.

By far the largest components of my litter haul are beer cans and plastic cider bottles. I’m not sure how this arises. Do a group of people call each other and say – fancy a drink? Yeah? Ok, let’s go down to the third field by the farm or into the woods. Then when they have drunk their fill, they look around for a barmaid to clear the empties and there’s no one around. Only one thing to do then – chuck it down on the ground.

I have never been a litter lout and have always found litter offensive. I find it difficult to understand why people cannot be responsible for their own litter and “stash the trash”, where it belongs, in a bin, preferably for recycling. I do reflect, however, that, over the last 30 years of my life, we have become wedded to packaging, whether plastic or other material, to an exponential degree, myself included.

Thinking back to when I was 26, I don’t recall there being such an extensive plastic offering. Where I was living, at the time, in the north of England,  takeaways of food and drink were starting to come on stream, but not on the scale we see today.  Starbucks and Costa coffee shops hadn’t yet come to town and when I popped out from work to grab a sandwich, I went to a little sandwich shop round the corner from my office and took my lunch away, wrapped in parchment paper. In my local supermarket, I would help myself to cereals and other dried products, out of large bins. I don’t think there was as much material to throw away.

Is there some sort of correlation between packaging and litter do you think? I can’t help thinking that there is, even though there is no excuse for littering. I wish, now, that I’d given more thought to the whole issue of packaging, its disposal and the environment. I wish I’d realised, when I was 26, how much my convenience would inconvenience the generations coming after me. I should have followed my parents’ example and taken my own shopping bag to the supermarket, rather than helping myself to numerous plastic bags which will suffocate the earth as landfill.

Better late than never, older and wiser, these phrases run through my blog theme. I shall continue with my litter picking and I shall try to moderate my use of packaging, as I have been for some time now. I’m no Boadicea-like eco warrior – I just don’t have the legs for it – but I can and should do more. I’m listing some of my current, rather paltry efforts which don’t really require much from me. Do you have any tips for a less packaged life? I’d love to hear.

I do:-

  • take my own bags for food and other shopping
  • buy fruit and veg loose and unpackaged, wherever possible
  • cut down on the purchase of take away drinks – making my own in a takeout mug or drinking inside from crockery cups
  • wash and re-use food storage bags until they fall apart
  • use tuppaware to carry home-made sandwiches
  • use real soap for personal washing rather than soap from a plastic bottle
  • throw rubbish straight into the bin rather than plastic bagging it, then clean the bin out with soap and water
  • buy products in recyclable cartons and containers, wherever possible
  • take my recyclable rubbish to recycle bins

I don’t want to get political about this, but there is a whole lot more that could be done by local and central government to improve matters. Sadly I’ve got old lady cyncical disease and have very low expectations of improvement from those quarters. I do however cling to the hope that individuals can make a difference, however micro, if they take personal responsibility for themselves and their environment.

Off to walk the dog now and to collect a few more empties.

The joy of becoming irrelevant

It’s been 2.5 years since I gave up my career as a lawyer.

For about 2 of those years, I have struggled with a new and rather unwelcome feeling – the feeling of being irrelevant.

If you are retired, semi-retired or between jobs, what I am going to say may strike a chord with you. The rest of you workers, please keep reading anyway.

The irrelevant thing started more or less as soon as I finished my work routine. I would open my shutters in the morning and look around the close, where I live, to see who was already going off to work, just as I was starting my day. I pictured the car journeys and commutes they would have to make, the newspapers they would buy, the phone calls they would make en route.  Then I imagined them all at their desks or rushing off to meetings and I felt, well, kind of stationary.

Later, when I went out and about to do my jobs for the day, my eyes would be drawn to people in dark, smart work clothes, striding purposefully ahead with a work bag in one hand and a take-away coffee in the other. That was me, once, I thought, picturing myself on the way to and from court or in an important meeting. I was one of those worker bees, buzzing purposefully through my working day.

The irrelevant thing intensified when I spoke to former work colleagues. I realised that the space I had occupied, for many years, had totally and swiftly closed around me, like a ripple in water after a pebble has been thrown into it and sunk without trace. Where I used to feel an affinity with my fellow workers, and would happily swap stories, over a glass of wine, about “work days from hell”, I no longer quite got it when those conversations started up again. I felt removed from that working world, as if I was looking at it from a great distance, barely able to see what was going on. I felt invisible, irrelevant.

In fairness to myself, it was never my intention to stop working. I planned a very belated gap year, to do some long deferred travelling and to re-energise myself, both mentally and physically. Thereafter, I intended to look for work again, outside the law. I had a few ideas about what I might like to do, but not much clue how to go about it.

Personal circumstances intervened in my plans, meaning that my life was overtaken by the need to support dear relatives and friends whom I have since lost. Sadness and grief subsumed me for a while. Still and occasionally, that little voice would chip away, asking me to justify who and what I was. I couldn’t do it, which rather added to my woes.

Eventually though, I emerged from a very difficult couple of years, somewhat damaged and bereaved. I and my partner, who also suffered terrible loss, got a beautiful Labrador puppy who has helped us to repair, immeasurably. We also had tremendous support from friends and relatives. I have a much “smaller” job now in terms of pressure and responsibility, but I am working in adult social care, where there is a lot of work to be done. I have learned to blog, despite being useless at the whole technology thing, and I have lots of “small” plans and ambitions for what I want to do in the future. I rarely have any time to spare. In many ways, I am more content now than I have ever been.

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I do keep a weather eye on matters legal. The other day, I stumbled across an interview on You Tube. A guy I was at uni with, who has climbed to the very top of the legal tree, was being questioned about the legal profession now and in the future. This guy has had a stellar career and continues to be very relevant in the legal world. All credit to him for a great deal of hard work and for his ability. It suddenly struck me though, in a light-bulb kind of moment, that all of us, one day, step away from jobs we have done or roles we have occupied, of whatever sort. In employment terms, we may leave to go on to something new, or to nothing at all. In personal terms, we may complete a role that befell us, such as waving off children into their adult lives. As soon as we finish the particular role, the waters will close around us and another pebble will be leaving its impression. And, hey, I now see that is completely ok. When all’s said and done, it’s life, it’s the dynamic of life, constantly changing and moving us all on. It happens to all of us, at some time, wherever we stand in the world. No point getting depressed or upset about it. For me, it’s a fact of life that simply must be recognised and accepted.

More than that, being unleashed from those jobs and roles which, we felt, anchored us in the “real”world, can be extremely liberating. It can free us to do all sorts of other things, even to be different people, if that’s what we want. It can allow us to try things, to abandon them, to learn new skills and to really be and find our true selves, for as long as health, strength and finances allow.

So I would say, to my 26 year old self, go ahead, try to make something of yourself and try to make some mark in the world, if you feel you must. But don’t get caught up in or diverted by any notions of status or importance, because you may have your moment in the sun, but if you do, you must also take your place in the shade. It’s part of the inevitable cycle of life. But however you get there, the shade can be a comfortable and productive place to be, where you will find the freedom to be and do what you want, rather than what you think you should.