The mentor and the Moomins
In June 2012, I woke up on my 36th birthday with the certain realisation that something had to change.
On the face of it, I had a good life: a successful, well-paid sales career; a healthy two-year-old son; great friends and family.
But I was dissatisfied: I was recently divorced and struggling to juggle single parenthood with the demands of my increasingly stressful job. Travel and nights away from home were the norm. My son was in nursery 8am-6pm every day and spent half the week with his dad, which meant I hardly saw him apart from rushed breakfasts and the bedtime hour.
I knew I didn’t want to get to forty and be living the same kind of life.
I had first met Lyndsey several years before, when we were both area managers for the same soft drinks firm where I still worked. We’d attended training together on courses called things like ‘Mastering your Motivation’ and ‘The Power of Belief’ – they were all about positive mindset and involved things like breaking through blocks of wood with your bare hands. It was powerful stuff, and we joked that the training was so good it might cause a mass exodus from the firm as everyone left to pursue their dreams, but at that point I never seriously entertained the possibility of real change. Like many others, I was caught up in the lifestyle that came along with good money, a nice car, pension, healthcare, etc.
I was stunned when, about a year after the training, Lyns ‘walked the walk’. She left her unhappy marriage, raising her daughter alone, and left the company too, having had enough of long hours and flights to and from London. She set up a deli business in Kilmarnock and I watched in awe as, slowly, she transformed. I thought she was brave, but I still didn’t think that that would ever be me.
My 4 year plan
When I had my little birthday epiphany, it was Lyns I thought of. By now she had sold the deli and launched her own training business. She came to see me for a couple of days and the first thing we did was buy a notebook in which to start making my own plan for transformation. I chose, very deliberately, a book with the Moomins on the front.
I knew from the age of six that I wanted to be a writer. I was a voracious reader and Finn Family Moomintroll was to become one of my favourites. Aged 9, I had a story published in an anthology and in my mind, my destiny was set. Of course, reality, mortgages (and even men) got in the way and somehow I had wound up here, dissatisfied with my life and still hankering after those childhood ambitions.
With Lyndsey’s help, and the benefit of years of business experience, I started to scope out a plan. I drew out 4 possible scenarios, from ‘Full Time Writer’ (The Dream – I never seriously believed anyone would pay me to do the thing I loved the most, but I wrote it down anyway, because I knew from work it was good to have a ‘stretch target’) to ‘Do Nothing’ (The Status Quo – which had its advantages to be fair, not least of which were money and security – pretty important when you’re a single mum).
The 2 scenarios in between were a little more hazy. Could I continue to work and pursue writing professionally? Could I teach, or do as Lyns had done and set myself up as a trainer? I had a vague sense of wanting to help others, but I wasn’t sure yet what that looked like. One thing was becoming clear though, I was probably going to have to retrain. And that would take money, and time. Four years seemed about right.
What happened next
It was a slow start, with small steps, the first of which was deciding exactly what I was going to do. Lyns gave me monthly goals as simple as ‘research training courses’. Within the first year, I had identified counselling as a possible career path and signed up on a course that I could do alongside my full-time job and parenting. I attacked my long-latent novel manuscript with renewed vigour and started submitting to agents. I had given space and a voice to my goals. In the Moomin Book I wrote: ‘In four years I will be a Writer and Counsellor (sounds better than Customer Business Manager)’. I was excited.
Where I am 4-5 years on
So Year One was about setting out. In Year Two, I entered (and won) the Bath Novel Award with my first book. Into Year Three, I’d completed my first year of training and was qualified to practise as a hypnotherapist (which I still do). Even more momentously, with a publishing deal under my belt, I quit my day job and started to write my second book. I was spending more time with my son, who was at school by now and I was able to do what I’d barely dared hope for: take him to school and pick him up. Have an evening meal with him in the week. That might sound small, but it meant everything to me as I started to notice the things I hadn’t even known I was missing when I’d been busy on the hamster wheel.
I woke up on my 40th birthday and I was a published author and a qualified counsellor. The wishes I’d committed to paper a few years earlier, with a little help from a friend, had become reality.
How Lyns helped (and continued to grow)
Lyndsey continued to help me in direct and indirect ways: she showed me by example that a ‘portfolio career’ was possible. She was involved in diverse projects and charity work. She was rocking single parenting (her daughter was and is an amazing young woman). She advised me when finances got a bit sticky. Her ‘thoughts for Sunday’ on Facebook lift me and make me reflect, every week.
Interestingly, we may have inspired each other as Lyns has recently completed her first qualification on the way to becoming a counsellor. She has also gone back to her own original training in, and passion for, food, running a luxury hamper company specialising in locally-sourced products.
It’s five years now since I first decided to ‘change my life’. It’s funny how, like branches from a tree, one opportunity has led to another: my counselling course led me to a volunteer placement with a charity, which led to a job; publication led to coaching opportunities and I now lead a women’s writing project; hypnotherapy led to a space where I can run writing workshops.
Life is as busy as ever but it makes sense now and I feel like I’m living my values. I don’t have money to take my son to Disneyland (yet!) or buy him all the latest technology, but I can give him time, and the message that you can have courage. You can go after your dreams.
This is a lesson I only truly learned with the help of my good friend and mentor. ‘We’ turned 90 last year and celebrated together. Looking forward to the next 90. Thank you Lyns.
Joanna's second novel, Hush Little Baby, is out now from Ebury Press