Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Risks and Regrets - Elen Caldecott

About five years ago, I had lunch in a Italian chain restaurant in an out-of-town retail park. It was an unlovely place for a conversation that would change the course of my life. The pasta was dry and the service was slapstick. But at least I wasn't paying; the meal was on the company.
At the time, I worked for a national chain. The purpose of the lunch was to Discuss My Future. Like all big companies, the chain had a staff development programme, where training would be given to anyone seeking promotion. I had completed all the training I could do at my branch. If I wanted to go further, I would have to move around the country doing internships at other branches.
So, my manager and I went for lunch.

I had two very different choices in front of me. I could stay in the company, travel, meet new people and eventually have my own branch, maybe my own region to look after.
Or, I could take myself seriously as an artist. I could stop messing around with stories and I could apply myself to a dream.
As I ate my chewy penne, I imagined those two futures.
In the first, I had a clear line of progression, interesting work, a pension plan, regular pay rises.
With the second, I had no guarantee of any money, no pension, no security, but it had a siren song.
I couldn't choose both; I knew that to succeed, I needed to be committed. If I attempted both, I'd do neither well.
I swallowed my food, and it wasn't just the fact that it was barely edible that made it stick in my throat. I was about to take a huge risk that might backfire horribly. I declined my manager's offer. Two weeks later, I applied to do an MA in Creative Writing for Young People.

The reason that I'm writing about this is because artists are having to think long and hard about their choices at the moment and I am no exception. What kind of life would I have now if I had agreed to his offer? I might own a house, I might have a fashionable hairdo, I might take foreign holidays, I wouldn't be so worried about what will happen to me when I'm old.
However, I suspect that I would also be living with regret; no matter how well I succeeded in business, I wouldn't have been doing the thing I loved.

Artists, writers and creative thinkers have to take risks. Simply by persuing those professions we are taking a risk. The arts landscape at the moment makes this situation even more precarious. But, for me, that makes my decision all the more valid. I love my job, I love books and I love reading. They are worth making sacrifices for. These are the things that stir passions.

At the time (and at points since), not everyone has understood my decision. Some have thought it foolhardy or short-sighted. Maybe it was. But it isn't a decision I can regret.
Elen's Facebook Page


Rachel Ward said...

What an interesting post, Ellen, and it sounds like you made the right decision for you, which is what matters. Although you felt that 'I couldn't do both,' for me and lots of other writers doing both is a perfectly workable option. Perhaps it depends on where you are in life and what commitments you already have. I started writing in my mid-thirties and already had the job, the mortgage, the husband and the kids, so any decision to give up the day job would have had rather drastic implications for them. I'm still doing both, fitting my writing around my day job and it's going pretty well. I don't think there's one route that's right for writers. You can do an MA, or you can go to evening classes or writing groups or you can just do your own thing in your spare time. It's a question of finding what's works for you.

catdownunder said...

I did something similar. I do not regret doing it because, in the end, it was the only decision I could live with - but that has not stopped me thinking that it would have been nice to have had a "proper job" that had some financial security! Is it possible not to regret and regret at the same time?

Elen Caldecott said...

Oh Rachel, I still have the day job! I didn't mean to imply that I was finanically skipping through daisies with my writing. No, I meant that if I was going to be a corporate high flyer then I would have needed to be totally committed to that. I would have had to be totally flexible with where and when I worked, doing whatever hours were needed. I couldn't have combined that with a fledgling career as a writer. I do admire anyone who can though!

Rachel Ward said...

Ah, I see now. I've never had that particular decision to make! I'm lucky that my day job is for my local Council, which has been great for combining work with parenthood and is now great for combining work with parenthood with writing.

Sue Purkiss said...

Must just say, Elen, that you still have a fashionable hairdo, or at least you did last ime I saw you!

Penny Dolan said...

I'm glad you were able to make your choice at the right time for you - as well as being slightly envious of the M.A. (Agree with Sue re hair, by the way!)

Elen Caldecott said...

Ha! Yes, I was lucky to have a very supportive partner who didn't mind me chucking a career away on little more than a whim.
As for the hair... a cut is a good three months overdue. Bird's nest.

Elaine AM Smith said...

Life is short. There are unsafe choice is called daring for a multi-layered reason. ;)

Linda said...

Well, I'm really glad you made that choice, or we may never have had the pleasure of your books. I too have taken the plunge, and I've taken some time out from work to write, although I admit I paid off the mortgage first. It's still scary, though, and occasionally I look wistfully at my peers and family when they jet off on fabulous holidays or pay the grocery bills without shuddering. I think what finally decided me was a vision of myself at the end of my life (cheery, much?) looking back. Would I be proud of the choices I'd made, or not?

Elen Caldecott said...

Hi Linda - how exciting! I'm pleased you're able to make time for your writing. Good luck!

Leila said...

Oh Elen, I so absolutely empathise with this post. The thing is to do what you do whole-heartedly. If you take the risk, don't paddle in with longing glances back at the safe sunbathers on the shore. Dive right in and start making friends with the sharks!