'I wanted more than motherhood and a boring job'.


Catapulting out of uni, when my brain stopped spinning from readings and essays and tutes, it came to rest not on the career I’d prepped for, but on marriage and babies. My parents had me late-ish, and I wanted my kids to know them. Motherhood – warts and all – felt right. So, at twenty-four, I plunged purposefully into the slow lane, career-wise.

My job paid for electricity and meat and Clarks First Walkers and Gymbaroo and had promotional opportunities and flexibility and sparked about as much creativity as did lying on the couch having a kip. It was safe. I could do it with my eyes shut and focus on other things. Important things… or so I told myself, several years into it, having dredged from somewhere yet another morning’s bucket-load of fake enthusiasm for the kids’ sake.

‘Have a great day at school!  Mummy’s off to work!’ (Yawn… sigh… bleuch – childish dramatics in the face of interminable clock-watching.)

My plan to tread water was well-intended.  I was up for low-stress, medium-level responsibility and work-life balance.  But, at the end of the day, the extra energy that I’d hoped to plug into motherhood had already been sapped by the effort it took to be Bored Senseless during working hours – a situation more challenging than it sounds, that spreads virally into your private life if you let it.

I’d crawl home, exhausted from another day of cruising in a direction that didn’t interest me – eight hours closer to my next holiday, which was never close enough.  I’d tell myself ‘I’m in my comfort zone, and that’s ideal as a working mum…’

Every so often, I’d catch a glimpse of the magic that lies beyond that zone – i.e. the cool stuff that other people do.  Bold people, who – even with kids – have grass stains on their knees from all the times they’ve fallen over, giving a career they’re wildly passionate about a red-hot go.

My knees were pristine, and the longer I clung to the status quo, the less comfortable it became in the fortress I’d built to stay secure and protected.  From what?  Exposure?  Mistakes?  Failure?  Eventually it dawned that, in my effort to be conservative and sensible and ‘family friendly’ – I wasn’t being me.

The ‘Am I good enough?’ mantra that had blasted through my internal PR system for years was soon drowned by a new question: ‘Is this good enough?’ This life ‘half lived’?  These opportunities shelved…


The taste of possibility was more-ish and, despite not seeing the big picture yet, I formed an ‘exit strategy’.  First question: How long could I stay here – miserable in the wrong job – serving up to my kids a poor imitation of the mother they might have if I’m being ‘all of me’.

Another year?  Three months?  Three minutes?

None of the above?

Gah! Would my alternative plan work?  It meant starting from scratch.  It meant an enormous drop in income.  It meant a sharp rise in the number of times I heard, ‘are you crazy?’

Easier to stay in the comfort zone, perhaps…

Except, having opened my mind to another way, I couldn’t close it again.  I knew that the fear of failure would chase me and find me and taunt me like a school bully while I cowered in the toilets.  Frankly, I was cowering in the toilets anyway – hoping to make short work of another five minutes in an endless working day.

Why not run towards what I wanted, instead of away from what I didn’t want?  What was really the worst that could happen?

Confidence shows up when we need it.  We don’t need it to laze in our pyjamas, watching cooking shows, thinking ‘I wish my life was different.’ We need it to push ‘send’ on the resignation email, to lick that stamp on the enrolment papers and to register a business name.

When my daughter started pre-school, she was barnacled to my ankle. Every morning I dragged her back to face it.  Every morning there were tears (hers and mine).  Almost a decade later, I watch as she ever-so-coolly sashays into the school yard and I think, ‘Is that the same girl?

Several years after I pressed ‘send’ on that email to my boss, saying ‘Thank you – I have to go …’ maybe my daughter wonders the same about me.  Is this the same Mum?

The one with the grass stains on her knees, falling onto the couch at night – sated from work, loving motherhood – success and failure littered like Christmas wrapping around her.

No longer wondering ‘What if?’ but ‘What next…’

Emma Grey is the author of Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005) and director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss.  She regularly writes on motherhood, work and relationships on her blog which you can find here.

Have you ever strayed out of your comfort zone?

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