This is a question that echoes in my mind almost every day. It has become something of a mantra I suppose, and I am not even conscious of it most of the time. When I was at school I was constantly told by the ‘grown-ups’ that I must choose a career and work towards achieving that. There could only be one job for me apparently. I wanted to be an author when I was young, but as I grew older I lacked confidence in my abilities and so I abandoned that plan. Then I wanted to be a TV broadcaster. More specifically I wanted to become a presenter on the children’s television channel Nickelodeon. I watched this channel all through my teenage years and into my early twenties whenever I returned home during university holidays. Then I moved into my own place and couldn’t afford Sky TV.
Keeping in mind my career aspiration, I chose to study Media at college and then went on to do a university degree in Film and Media Studies. I freely admit now that I went off the rails a bit while at college and my A-Level results were subsequently very poor by my high standards. I barely scraped through because I would skive off from lessons and spent a lot of time in the local pub playing pool with my friends. There were other factors involved of which I need not describe here, suffice to say it was a time of me being the ‘rebellious teenager’ and finding my place in the world.
Moving on to university and I was very naïve in my choice of educational establishment. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved my time at University of Wales, Lampeter (now renamed as Trinity St David’s university). It is a beautiful small town hidden away in mid Wales. But therein lies the problem. The only way in and out of town was via bus or car, and the bus journey was convoluted since it travelled through lots of small villages and remote countryside before reaching either Aberystwyth or Carmarthen depending on which way you wanted to travel. I didn’t have my own car at the time, so it was a very insular existence. We also didn’t have social media back then, and I was still learning about the internet and what I could do with it.
I quickly gave up on my plans to be a TV broadcaster when I realised that I am just not that kind of person. I am naturally very quiet and shy, and I struggle to articulate my feelings. I am one of those people that thinks of the perfect response to a discussion about half an hour after the event. I certainly could not fill airtime with pointless chatter or cheerful anecdotes, and I am not very good at giving interviews. I worry about being too nosey with people. No, I am far better suited to being a writer. If only I had known this sooner and had the confidence to pursue it, I might already be an international bestseller by now. But that was clearly not my path to take.
My observation here is all about the idea that we can only be one thing in this world. We have to be a ‘successful’ career person, with lots of money and high status in big business, in order to be perceived as anything of worth by our peers. I don’t know when this pattern was first developed, but I do know that is has been in place for centuries. It is only during the past one hundred years that women have begun to assert their place in this business world, and to step out from the domestic world of our genetic heritage. I love being a mother. I am not so keen on being a housewife. I love being a writer. Nowadays, I do not classify myself as one thing or another, although when filling out official forms I have to put ‘unemployed’ or ‘stay at home mother’ because that is my main profession if you like.
Why must we be defined only by our place of work or the job that we do? So many people do so many things, and it has taken me almost 30 years to learn this fact. I know people who work in retail or administration and they enjoy their jobs, even though they are considered fairly lowly in the hierarchy. For these people the joy in life comes from their personal interests. They might have hobbies such as sports, arts, music or volunteering. They might be the people that organise festivals and events in their communities, but they are never recognised because it doesn’t earn them any money. When will we change this mindset, and when will we teach our children that they can do lots of different things with their lives? I intend to do it now, while my daughters are very young. They can do and be whatever they want, but I will teach them the basic premise of right and wrong as I perceive it. That is ultimately all we can do.