Are you fed up with working full time? Desperate to spend more time with your children rather than being chained to an office five days a week? This series talks to parents who have left their full-time jobs for more flexible ways of working.
- What do you do?
I’m an author and a creative brand and communications consultant. I’ve written three books for HarperCollins with my mum Sarah Beeson MBE. Our most recent is Our Country Nurse. When I’m not writing books I’m running Wordsby, a communications business that specialises in branding and campaigns with micro businesses and arts organisations.
2. Why did you want a more flexible career?
I wanted more time – more time to look after my daughter and spend with my husband Takbir. More time to write – I don’t feel whole unless I’m writing and 9-5 can crush that. And more time for me; now if I want to do yoga for 20 minutes rather than have a coffee break I can. I’m trying to be a better boss to myself too.
- What were you doing before you had children?
I was working in the civil service in strategic communications, branding and campaigns. I’d come to London as an assistant director but after three months had no money and took what I thought would be a temporary job at O2 in communications and discovered I had a talent for comms. From O2 I went on to work in the election strategy team at Labour Party HQ and then onto working on government brands and campaigns before taking on a role at The National Archives.
- What was the trigger point that made you switch?
I’d written a parenting book with my mum who is a health visitor called Happy Baby, Happy Family during my maternity leave. We had offers from publishers and I wasn’t enjoying being back at full-time work. I missed my daughter, I missed writing, and I missed feeling like me.
I had to have time off after some complicated dental work and realised that I didn’t want to go back to the office. So, I handed in my resignation. A week later we got a three-book deal with HarperCollins and I decided to go freelance with my communications consultancy work.
- What’s a typical day like for you?
My day goes something like this…
- Get up, get daughter and self-dressed, breakfasted and packed up and walk 25 minutes to school if not tipping it down.
- Leave daughter at school then walk home while chatting to mum on phone and do a bit of yoga to get focused. Or go and meet client or colleague for presentation, consultation or breakfast.
- Work like a bat out of hell until 3pm and then rush to collect daughter from school while tackling outstanding emails, tweets, texts, calls.
- Try not to answer work calls and emails (frequently don’t follow my own advice here). Supervise homework, music practice, make dinner. Play with daughter watch kids’ TVs. Bath and bedtime stories.
- On alternate nights make adults’ dinner. Answer important emails and read through necessary documents. Look at my diary, drink wine, and watch telly. Try and go to bed early and read a book (usually end up compulsively watching drama or unable to put book down and don’t fall asleep till after midnight even though I keep intending to go to bed early but it’s the only time you get for yourself).
- Do you work every day, or is it different each week?
I work every weekday unless it’s school holidays when I try and work in the morning and then in the evening once my daughter was asleep. I do what has to be done. I had to work every single day right through August because we had a new book coming out and that’s what I needed to do. At the moment there’s a lot to do but it’s not quite so critical so I don’t work in the evening or at weekends unless I have to. I focus on what needs to done rather than thinking I have to be working all the time.
Something always needs to be done, I’ll never reach the end of my to do list so I don’t even try anymore – success isn’t getting everything done, for me it’s getting a few things done well in the right order. I like to enjoy the small achievements each day.
- What advice would you give to anyone wanting to give up a 9-5 job?
Acknowledge what you want to get from the switch. Not everyone’s objectives are the same – what do you want your days to be like? Is it that you want to make a lot more money or be able to pay the bills? Do you want freedom to take on the work you enjoy doing? Do you want greater flexibility to fit in with family life? Think about how important stability is to you.
For me doing what I love and having freedom to work on what I want and being with my family is the most important factor. If it was having security and a pension I’d have stayed in the civil service. You should also think about what support you need to ensure you can make the switch successful. And if you’re a mum transfer those skills to your new life, because planning, flexibility and clear decision making are key.
- How do your earnings compare with when you were working full or part time in a 9-5 job?
I don’t earn as much as I did before. I could do but I’d have to do less of what I enjoy doing (writing), and more strategic communications and work much, much longer hours and hire an au pair and the switch wasn’t about that.
- What do you think is the biggest challenge for working parents?
The biggest challenge is guilt. The second biggest challenge is childcare. Ensuring you meet your child’s emotional and physical needs, do great work and don’t run yourself ragged is a balancing act. We don’t always get it right but being realistic about how much you can do and prioritising is the best way not to have a meltdown (and I’m taking about me not my daughter).
- If you weren’t doing this job, what would you doing?
I’d be doing communications and marketing for an arts company or I’d go into working in theatre. But I love being a writer it’s who I am. Some jobs you choose and others choose you which can be a bit inconvenient sometimes.