“Nobody gets it,” I moaned a few weeks ago. “People think I can be persuaded to go back.” Last month, it emerged that the job I left two years ago had become available again… and that my former boss had also resigned. Cue friends, former colleagues and other people asking if I’d be applying. I probably didn’t help the situation by attending a trade show last month. Or the fact that my LinkedIn profile still states that I’m a freelancer.
“They clearly don’t read your blog, then,” my Dad countered. Which means that at least some people are getting the message.
I realise I have also been a little vague even here. The reasons are twofold: I’ve always been hesitant to mention an employer by name – you could all figure it out if you really wanted to, but if I try to mask it a little, I feel that I can be freer with what I write; I don’t want to jinx my situation – yes, that sounds a little too superstitious perhaps, but I feel that it’s taken me this long to get this far, and that I want to protect myself and hedge my bets. But perhaps it’s time to let the not-so-secret out more explicitly. Today felt like a good day. So here’s the plan:
Two years ago, I retired from event management. I don’t know how much clearer I can make that. Some of my closest friends understood right away, support me to this day, and I am continually grateful for their comprehension. I could go back… if I wanted to. If being the key word. I still have the qualifications, experience and skills. But there is absolutely no will there. I honestly cannot bear the thought of the majority of my working life being lived indoors and at a desk. I have seen the alternative, and it isn’t always pretty, it is normally hard, but it is worth it.
The reality is that, due to my experience and my long term aim, I will have to settle myself at a desk occasionally. But I see that as being one or possibly two days per week in the future. I feel better in myself for doing something active, even though it means that my standard work wardrobe these days is more waterproofs than wrap dresses.
And now for the really important bit: when I retired (I’ve decided I really like that word – it feels indulgent, and I’m also experimenting with the use of it in order to really ram the point home to those who are struggling to comprehend what I’ve done), I thought I wanted to be a riding instructor in the traditional BHS-mould. I knew it could be a tricky process, given that I had no savings and was considered too old to join a typical apprenticeship-type scheme, plus I was in no way skilled enough to work as a groom or working pupil in order to get someone else to pay for my training. The equestrian world also has a horrible reputation for promising employees the world and giving them very little – I’d love to be part of the change there, but… slowly slowly – so I assumed I’d have to go it alone.
After my first summer teaching in the US, something wasn’t sitting quite right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I decided to go back for another shot – I hadn’t hated it by any means, and I wondered if what was difficult was the fact that the experience wasn’t fully representative of my potential future. I thought I needed more time to think. It turns out that I needed to meet someone new: I made a new friend who opened my eyes to a different way of working, and suddenly a few things clicked. Equine therapy was something which had intrigued me for a few years, but I had even less idea of how to make that happen than I did of how to become a riding instructor. The path always seemed woolly and mysterious, until I realised why: it plain is woolly and mysterious. There are many therapists out there making it up as they go along, with the assistance of some overarching organisations, but most of them are learning by doing and through intuition and thinking laterally. I found my place. Sort of.
There was still the matter of how to make it really happen, because I’m still penniless, horse-less and largely clueless. Then my one friend introduced me to two more, and things pretty much took off. When I returned from my second summer, I started volunteering with their charity – although the problem is, I don’t see it this way, which might be another reason my peers are struggling to believe me! It’s a sign that I’m doing the right thing, because it doesn’t feel like work, it just seems like hanging out with my friends and their horses, where clients happen to be.
The situation has evolved over the last few months to the point that there are serious discussions around booking me up for the days when I’m not working at the job which will help me tick over, plus that there’s a training course we’d all like for me to undertake, and the charity are hoping to fund that. Whilst I’ve been out of paid work, I’ve been doing two or three days per week with the charity, some of these doing equine development (read: Prince’s boot camp), and others assisting with therapy sessions for clients (sometimes this is entertaining a pony who isn’t working, on other occasions it’s a more active role of teaching a group a new activity). But whatever I find myself doing proves to be the missing link. There wasn’t the same sense of fulfilment with event management; teaching riding is great, but I have a limited degree of patience when shouting “up, down, up, down” (though I do miss the fact that shuttle runs when teaching beginners keeps me fit, and tacking up my share of 30 horses four times each day gave me the best biceps and triceps I’ve ever had).
The charity is expanding rapidly, and there is a definite place for me there, thanks to a combination of old and new skills. This summer there will be open days for publicity, play days for fundraising, pony camp-type days for income and many more things besides. This all means that 2015 is looking likely to be the first year that my feet will remain on UK soil since 2011. It’s going to be hard work, it’s going to be busy, and I’m still not certain that I’ve found the sector within therapy which really makes my heart sing, but I’m working for people who are supportive of my approach – they don’t know my entire history, because that hasn’t been important to them. It’s important that I turn up, have the right attitude and want to grow. It’s my favourite way of doing things – try it out and see what works, what you enjoy. My hope is to undertake the formal training, work with different types of clients, improve my equine skills and see how far I can go.
There will be events, there will be paperwork and there will be marketing. But there will also be wellies, skipping out and I will teach riding occasionally. It took two years to properly figure out my retirement plan and how to implement it, but the next stage is here, and I’m looking forward to telling you about it as it happens.