Forty is not the new 30. You start worrying about your teeth, and wish you had brushed them more. You wish you’d started moisturising your face 20 years ago, or at least cleaned it before bedtime. Did you choose the right career or partner? You have to make a decision about grey hair. Eyeliner is getting pretty tricky to apply. You are pre HRT but post nappy changing. Well, not always for either.
On the other hand you stop worrying so much about what people think. You are kinder to yourself. You can read Shades of Grey on a busy train, not in a cupboard with a lamp. You can be cheeky and not get into trouble, and you don’t really care if you do anyway. But you are still a bit scared to tell your mum and dad that you have a (small) tattoo.
It’s a time when a lot of parents no longer feel the urge to cut up other peoples’ food, and can slow down eating to a normal social speed again. You start loving slippers and fluffy dressing gowns. There is less sick to clean up. But you can’t do your kids homework any more. And you start worrying about your parents getting older.
Back to the career thing. Being in a job for 20 years can sneak up on you. Or even several jobs because the days of womb to tomb work have gone for most people. We did the buying a house on the internet and moving abroad thing that only seriously irresponsible people do, so the jobs we knew and (didn’t) love stopped along with that.
I got a job in rural France as a part time caprine maintenance engineer.
At work one day in this, ok goat milking job, my mind was off on a wander as my hands turned a few hundred goats’ cheeses. It’s a task you do every twelve hours to drain the whey from the cheese. It was a lovely lovely job. Satisfying and repetitive, it involved goats, my fifth favourite animal after elephants, gorillas, dolphins and butterflies, and there was no huge effort of thought involved like previous jobs. It gave my mind time to think about things I’d never had time to think about before. I had previously for example been able to rank my top twenty animals. That day I got round to thinking what a cool idea it would be to somehow combine work and travel.
Back at home, a few hundred metres stroll further along our little road, I found a site on the internet explaining how to train as an English teacher. I signed up without really thinking much more about it. Sometimes it’s better not to overthink.
And then six months later, on a Sunday evening on a train, half way through the teaching course, I sat recovering from a week’s onslaught of grammar and expectant students and permanent fear of making a complete tit of myself. I wasn’t really sure where I was heading. Metaphorically. I did know roughly which train I was on. I had had such a directionless career path. Lawyer, bakery owner/dogsbody, caprine maintenance engineer and now wannabe teacher. And then, boom, it all fell into place. Teach business and legal English. Milk goats at the weekend.
The biggest tit I’ve made of myself when teaching, incidentally, was during my first ever solo lesson. I had cleverly decided to put the (advanced English) class of 18 year olds into random groups of four by using a pack of cards. The students would form groups by finding their matching 7s or 8s etc. I dished out the cards, explained what to do, and no one moved. “Everyone up! Find your matching cards. Don’t be shy.” No one moved. Very slowly, in as clear English as possible I repeated very very sloooow-ly “Fiiiiind yooooour maaatching caaaards.” I was worried that I had the beginners class by mistake. After an awkward silence one of the students said, in fairly fluent English, “Excuse me, but we’re actually sitting in the correct order already.” Since then I’ve learnt that all important step of shuffling the cards before giving them out.
During my training, I got an unexpected buzz at knowing the grammar behind the language I had used all my life. The rules I hadn’t known existed. The secrets behind HOW to teach, and how people learn. I was hooked. You could have sat me at that point in a windowless room forever with a grammar book and I’d have been delighted.
And then the working and travelling started and the meeting of like minded grammar geeks cum travel junkies began. It’s very reassuring to know you’re not the only grammar geek cum travel junkie out there. I spend more time at home than away, and those family times are getting more and more precious as the kids grow older and more independent. And then I’m off to teaching land, which can be in Germany or Russia or Serbia or wherever. It’s like being James Bond and a mum and wife all at the same time.
It’s allowed us as a family to head off for a year in a campervan, working intermittently along the way. We are not long back and still coming to terms with the return.
It hit me this week what a surreal job it can be. In the past week and a half I’ve been in Tokyo, London, Paris and Munich. I am, nevertheless, very glad to now be home in our little hamlet with two street lamps and a sign to remind drivers to watch out for toads crossing the road.
Some working weeks are [she tries to trawl through her English teacher extensive lexis, but come up with nothing better] shite. Some weeks are more rewarding than any job I have ever known. It all boils down to the motivation of the students. For me the two are directly proportionate. Learning how to motivate those on the edge is something I find rewarding too. The more I know, the more I want to know, and the more I know there is to know.
I would encourage anyone who either wants to pretend to be James Bond or who believes that there is something more out there just to go for it. Even if you don’t know what the something is, it sometimes takes that first step of removing yourself from the busyness of life to have time to reflect. The lack of security for that in between moment, or perhaps forever, is often a worthwhile trade off. You might even find that you actually love what you’ve left but didn’t realise it. Either way, a good thing to know.
Have you had a late career change? Retrained, set off on a journey? How did it go? Any regrets?