I’ve had some proper brain rattling encounters this week. Loads of ‘em happened at the UKFEchat Conference at the Manchester College last weekend – and in the traditional post-conf pub-sesh. These chats have kept popping back into my head all week.
One was with the sparkling force of nature that is Lou Mycroft. If you haven't heard her speak or read her work, please gallop towards it (you can do horsey sounds if you want – I’ll not judge and neither would she). In the past few years her work life has changed and she does all sorts of interesting stuff that aligns with her own personal edu mission and set of values. It takes her all over the place. She describes herself as a “nomadic thinker”.
Background: UKFEchat: Everything you need to know
The 100-year life
I also chatted with Andrew Scott, professor of economics at London Business School and co-author of The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. He joined me via Skype to be a guest on the Tes FE Podcast, having just arrived in Dubai, fresh from giving lectures at Harvard. Him, not me. I was fresh from the cheese aisle at Lidl.
We had a conversation about the changing nature of what it means to have a job or a career or both. How many of us are still trudging the same 9-5 route (if you're a teacher it’s more like a 7am-10pm route) that was set out donkeys’ years back, in a time when people were only expected to live to their mid-sixties? The prof is an advocate of the multi-stage career and life. This is where your career can transition through several incarnations with a common values thread and for a range of purposes. Those purposes might be to bring in some wedge, to spend more time at home, to have adventures, to be entrepreneurial, for a social purpose, to travel, to learn – you design your life.
At The House of Simons, none of us has had a linear career (including Betty the Whippet who started her dog-career as an abandoned pup before joining us to live the dog-life of Riley). Neither my husband nor I have ever in our entire adult lives worked for just one employer, preferring instead to cobble together careers based on what we love doing and what we want the practicalities of our lives to be.
Career or job?
Don't get me wrong, I’m certainly not dancing through a career utopia, plucking out enchanted and heftily-cashed adventures. A career and a job are two different things. It depends on how you build your identity, the amount of stability your life requires, and how much money you need to bring in to keep afloat.
When I was an actor, when that was my career, like most of my peers I experienced quiet times and occasionally had to get a job to pay the bills. I worked as a shop assistant, in a call centre, in a kitchen and in many bars. I've sung in pubs, been an office temp, handed out leaflets and in my young and foxy days I sometimes got paid for attending trade shows and pointing at things while wearing a tight T-shirt. During all of this I was always an actor, that was my career, I was just doing other jobs when I needed to. And some of those shitty jobs were actually bloomin’ brilliant fun and I made lifelong friends on the way. Just because they weren't my chosen career doesn’t mean the work didn't have value.
I see no difference between the necessary shifts between my career as an actor and the jobs I sometimes took, and the way in which I structure my education career now. But I know it’s not right for everyone.
Managing career trauma
This time of widespread redundancies right across the sector is understandably frightening for a lot of people. If you're reading this and you’re in the middle of a crisis you might think, “What do you know?” And you're right, it’s easy to calmy talk about managing a career trauma when you're not in the middle of it.
I haven't (as yet) had to get other jobs outside of my education career as (at the moment) I’m lucky enough get offered a lot of work (touch wood/fingers crossed/insert other superstitions here). But if I had to get a job to pay the bills, because the work I want to do dries up, I absolutely would. My career path is not linear and I'm probably less ambitious than I should be. My goals are: to feel personally rewarded by what I do, to learn new stuff, to stretch my brain to think in different ways, to work from home a lot, and to bring in enough money to pay the bills/occasionally go out for my tea/go to the theatre more than is necessary.
I can function not unhappily without the additional fluff that more money brings. I know this through experience. Some years ago we had a devastating financial hiccup that resulted in a good few months of absolute skintness. I don't mean cutting down on impromptu Amazon purchases and cancelling the gym membership kind of skint. I’m on about empty food cupboards and a lot of 9p home-made veggie burgers. It was tricky for a time but we got through it. And if one is in the mindset of living hand to mouth, which I have never not been, the security of financial planning based on a regular salary isn't something that keeps me up at night. I can always get a job in a bar.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons