Working 9 to 5 📄 how Lucy poured herself a cup of ambition

Image by Darius Bashar, via Unsplash

Lucy had always wanted to be a writer. She’d had some short stories published, and was trying to make the leap to novels. She worked in retail for several years, but in the late-1990s, as a result of her own writing, she got a job in a catalogue publishing office, where she created mock-ups and checked proofs. A year or so later, she moved to a new job in a large corporation. It was growing rapidly in what was then the burgeoning business of internet retailing. It was new, exciting, and meant a 25% pay increase – useful with a family to feed. But it wasn’t all plain sailing, and a bullying line manager changed her life for ever.

Lucy loved her existing job and colleagues in the catalogue production department, but was excited about the new role. Internet retailing was clearly the future, and her new employer was a large company. You’ll have heard of it. You’ve probably been a customer. The substantial pay rise would certainly make things easier on the family finances, and the icing on the cake was a shiny new desk on the top floor of a swanky office building.

But Lucy’s enthusiasm for the new job waned within a few weeks of starting. Her new boss – we’ll call her Jackie – made things very difficult. Lucy liked to start work early, which meant that Jackie was usually the only person in the office when she arrived. Each morning Lucy was greeted with a dull grunt, Jackie’s eyes remaining fixed firmly on the screen in front of her. Every day there were comments, put-downs, and general tension directed towards Lucy. It quickly became clear that Lucy would not be able to stay.

Before Lucy had left her old job, her then boss had told her: If it doesn’t work out you’re welcome back any time. Lucy explored that avenue with a carefully worded email, but a reply said her old post had been filled, and no one else was needed. With the situation in the new office worsening, Lucy sought alternatives.

A friend suggested a company that was looking for people with her skills, and within a few months, having taken an interview and a couple of tests, she’d secured some remote freelance work. This was in the days before remote working was really a thing, and with kids at home the shift represented a hell of a risk. But Lucy knew she could make it work. She could do this freelance gig, give good time to her own writing, work flexible hours, save on child care, and be a more hands-on mom.

Jackie had a two-week holiday booked. Lucy knew she had to give four weeks’ notice to quit her job, so contacted the HR department. She asked about her remaining holiday allowance, and was told she had two weeks left. She then told HR that she was leaving. She’d work for the two weeks that Jackie was on holiday, then take her two weeks holiday entitlement. She wouldn’t have to see Jackie again.

HR called Lucy into a meeting. They asked why she was leaving. Why so sudden? Not wanting to cause trouble, she told them an opportunity had arisen she couldn’t afford to turn down. They asked her to stay after Jackie’s return to ensure a smooth handover. Did all they could to convince her she shouldn’t leave. It was almost as if they were under Jackie’s thumb too. Whatever Lucy said, the HR staff didn’t want to hear it. In the end she agreed to their request to work an extra two weeks – but this was just to bring the meeting to an end: she really had no intention of doing so.

The Friday afternoon before Jackie’s return, Lucy said goodbye to her colleagues, and walked out. On the drive home she felt euphoric. No more feeling sick every workday morning. No more passive-aggressive comments from her boss. No more tears and tension.

Now in her early 50s, Lucy has worked on a freelance basis ever since. She’s had novels published, written screenplays and audio scripts. She’s worked with new and interesting people, led workshops, and developed in ways she could not have envisaged. There were times when money was tight, but with a supportive partner they kept food on the table, paid the taxes, and gave the kids birthdays and Christmases and holidays to remember.

Lucy recently saw a video in which a 100-year old man was asked what advice he would give to young people: “Take a risk.” was his answer. It’s a sentiment with which she would wholeheartedly agree. Having been forced into taking a risk all those years ago, what she’d really like to do now is find a way to help others achieve their full potential.

Lucy’s advice? If you’re unhappy, dissatisfied or frustrated in your work, make a positive change. It’s worked for her, and it can work for you too.

To start, just ask yourself these questions:

What would you like to have happen?
Can that happen?
What do you have to do to make that happen?

I’m a novelist and scriptwriter, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow and Advisory Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Click here to get the lowdown on updates, insight into projects, and a look behind the scenes on creative stuff. You can also follow TFW on Twitter, or like the Facebook page.

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