The article below is the ‘scene-setter’ for my column in Cornwall Today magazine
How’s your work-life balance? Do you feel relaxed as you perch on the seesaw of modern life, or are you desperately afraid to loosen your grip in case a sudden, unforeseen jolt catapults you skywards or sends you sprawling into the dirt?
Dolly might have been the show-stopper at Glastonbury this year but you only need to listen to her lyrics to see she’s been around a while. Dare I say some of them are showing their age? Because very few of us who breakfast on a cup of ambition get the chance to work from nine to five any more. Working eight til seven doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but it’s a little more realistic. Those halcyon eight-hour working days enjoyed by the Baby Boomers now seem as remote as the computer studies lessons given to us awe-struck Generation X-ers when we were at school. We watched and listened in wonder as our teachers demonstrated the BBC computer that was wheeled from one classroom to another on a trolley, and whose brethren was set to revolutionise our lives. The future was to be one of leisure. We would work a three-day week, not like those in our childhoods that stemmed from industrial action, but because computers, robots even, would be taking the strain. We would all kick back and reap the benefits …
Ho ho ho. Who were they kidding (as they worked out their early retirement deals with final salary pensions)?
Bitter? You betcha.
Because much as I have always loved my work, I have never loved it to the exclusion of other things – notably my family and my hobbies.
And so in January I decided to loosen my grip on the aforementioned seesaw, to step off the corporate roundabout. To let go and let myself come sliding down the greasy pole. You’ve got the idea – and I’ve run out of metaphors …
For the first fortnight I can best describe myself as feeling slightly bewildered. After working almost solidly for more than 25 years, I felt anxious. I ought to be doing something; I should be going somewhere, seeing someone.
But then it started to dawn on me that I had replaced most of the oughts and shoulds with a wonderful, big, fat ‘could’.
Now I am able to indulge myself and do the things I want to do. A lot of it involves growing, rearing and nurturing plants and animals, still more of it involves cooking them. Some of it involves killing them. It’s often fun. Sometimes I feel like I’m finally achieving what I really want to do. Sometimes I wonder why I ever started and whether I should get my head examined …
Of course, it’s not all Tom and Barbara. We haven’t paid off our mortgage. My other half has made a swift return to work and I have started my own business. After taking it easy for several months I am generally to be found at my desk most days. But it’s infrequently from nine to five, or eight til seven. It’s really varied. It sometimes starts at 6am, sometimes at 11. Some days it doesn’t start at all – I do other things. I can work in the evenings, or at weekends. It depends on what my clients want and need, and then it’s up to me to meet their deadlines. They need me when they need me and the rest of the time aren’t too worried about where I am and what I’m doing.
Crucially, though, nobody is looking to see whether I’m in yet or whether I’m the first or last to leave.
I’m gradually spending more time working and, after the summer, will ramp it up further. Actually, I really enjoy my new work, it’s exciting and fun. But it is more on my terms and if I ever get that Sunday night, back-to-school sense of dread, I will know it’s time to take stock again.
So where’s this column going? Don’t fear, it won’t be a stream of consciousness designed to create feelings of resentment among those in conventional employment. I couldn’t stand the grief I’d get from my mates.
My plan is to take you with me as I live a life less corporate, as I have time to indulge my interests in everything from bread-making and home-brewing to rearing poultry for eggs and for meat, go fishing and maybe even a bit of a forage as well. Cornwall is full of people who are keeping country traditions alive, and I will get out and meet some of them too.
And the bonus (for me) is that I don’t have to go back to the office to write it up …