I wanted to say something about networking. For me. Beyond the remit (to date) of the course we are doing, but it is relevant to my ‘journey’.
The last twenty years or so, and quite possibly longer, I have been in a bit of a cocoon. Of my own making. Or maybe not. Anyway.
I’ve no idea what I am going to do with the rest of my life, but I know I need to earn a living after a very long spell at home with babies, fish fingers and bedtime stories. During those stay-at-home-mum years I liked nothing better than the company of my kids. They were funnier and smarter than anyone else I knew. (Still are!) And anyway, I wanted to be the one picking them up from school, hearing about their days, teaching them manners, kissing them better and so on. And maybe they were also an excuse.
When pregnant, I was unsure whether I’d return to work after maternity leave. My job required long hours and unpredictable overseas travel. So did his. He made plenty of money. So did I. But factoring in the costs of nannies, travel, business clothes, babysitters, it didn’t seem like such a huge hit, losing one income. At the time. (Of course, my income would have risen and my childcare costs would have fallen, over the years.) All the stress of organizing the whole edifice – including when a client meeting in Berlin suddenly switched day, or I missed the last flight back – would have fallen to me. So the thought of leaving my baby with someone paid to care for her, while I went back to advising companies about this or that seemed nonsensical, even leaving aside fears of Munchausen by proxy.
And I was completely in love with her. Spent endless hours gazing at her, amazed, while she did… nothing much, but I was mesmerised. The questions I had been paid to address at work held far less interest.
And I had never thought I was any good anyway.
So I sat at home. I think I got increasingly uncomfortable, and at the same increasingly comfortable in that discomfort. Or anyway increasingly unable to wrench myself out of it. And the world moved on. Email, the internet, jpegs, being available 24/7, social media. My peers were getting bigger and bigger jobs, and I… was just getting bigger.
I’d lost touch with colleagues. When people did contact me with talk of meeting up or even sometimes work, I made excuses. I felt ashamed. And while I got bigger and bigger on the outside, inside I was like the old TV screens that would shrink to a dot.
I had friends, sure. Other mums, mainly.
Returning to work was never discussed. My husband was a successful banker, apparently. There was no financial imperative, apparently. Inertia set in. And don’t forget, there was nothing I had a burning interest in doing, workwise. I didn’t have a cause to campaign for, or a better mousetrap to flog. And time marched on. And I got less employable, but did it matter?
LinkedIn arrived. Not for me – who would want to connect with a housewife? I was on Facebook, but had few friends there. I didn’t want all kinds of people seeing me, my kids, my thoughts. Every so often someone from the past would ask to ‘friend’ me. But what if they saw how fat I had become? What if they thought what I posted was stupid?
I realise now that fear of someone thinking I was stupid has loomed far, far too large in my life. I don’t know why. But it has made me hide under a rock, not expressing any opinions; not even formulating any.
This business, often discussed in the group, of breaking out of our comfort zone: I had been doing it for a while before I signed up (by which time I had already invited the coaches!). I don’t know what work I am going to do, but I know that, whatever it is, I will be better placed to do it if I am connected. And no matter what field of endeavor, you never know which people might be able to help. Quite apart from enriching your life.
So I’m sending requests to people, some of whom I have not seen for 30 years or more. Most simply accept me. With some I have a little exchange of messages, which is nice. Others have not replied. Fair enough. Many people who worked with me years ago, or who were at business school with me, I frankly don’t remember. However, human relations being what they are, they will prefer to do business with someone from their promotion even if they don’t know her from Adam. (Then the small voice pipes up: but maybe they actively disliked me, and I never knew?) I feel slightly sick as I do it, but I hit ‘connect’. It feels very uncomfortable. Needy. Presumptuous. (Why?) But I do it anyway.
I wasn’t all that outgoing at business school. I mean, I went to parties, I even threw some. But I was insecure. Just as at university, and in my jobs, I assumed everyone else there was better than I. My getting in was just a fluke.
Plus I was pretty wrapped up in my relationship with someone I met there and later married.
In the last few months I’ve spent countless hours on LinkedIn. I am fascinated by the weird connections; the unlikely people from different parts of my life, and different parts of the world, who know each other. I have even linked up with former boyfriends. I was married over 20 years, so these go back a long way. It’s bringing up a lot of stuff.
And every time I go on there, I am asked whether I would like to link with the man who walked out on me and the children, left us with a note on the mat and nothing but debt. We have so many connections in common! That one I don’t press.
For someone so terribly afraid of exposing herself, this blog is a peculiar thing to be doing. It started as a way to learn something new: how to use WordPress. It seems to be more than that now. It’s anonymous, and I am doing it, not with the expectation of being read; more as a way of finding out what I think. I hope that this exercise (dredging things up, examining myself) will help me make a plan for how to fill my time and pay my bills. It’s scary, but I kind of like it.
Photo credit: another one by my firstborn, don’t know what kind of flower though.