Last Thursday was a day loaded with irony. One year to the day that I got up at 5am to write a letter that would change my life, I found myself working from 8am – 8pm and ending up at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, chatting to some of my dear ex-colleagues at DFS! Did I plan this to mark the anniversary of handing in my resignation? I did not. If I had, I could hardly have done it better!
22nd May 2013, I was up, as I say, at 5am because I had made the decision to resign after 17 years with this amazing company. I’m the kind of person who once I’ve decided upon a course of action, I need to get on with it, get it done and then move on. So, I wrote the letter, sealed it in an envelope and set off to find my Area Manager with a desire to get it over and done with.
On the way to Bristol in the car, I had an itchy arm and saw that I must have been bitten by some insect. Surely not a mosquito, in England, in May? Had I missed squirting the dog with Frontline? Perhaps we had bed-bugs? Yuck. By the time, I was handing the letter over, my arms and legs were covered in these darned “bites” and yet, as far as I could see, I wasn’t being followed by some biblical plague!
Handing this letter over was easily the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done. Often accused of being married to the job, it felt like I was filing for divorce! For seventeen years, I had lived and breathed sofas. Getting this job when I was 26, changed my life. It enabled me to build a career, to buy my first house, to travel, to meet wonderful people (including my husband), to pay for our wedding, to buy our house, to take amazing holidays and to enjoy our precious time together.
It also meant me working every Saturday, every Sunday and every bank holiday for 17 years. I loved my work so I’d go in early and come home late. The only time that my husband and I spent 24 hours together was when we were on holiday because he worked a “normal” Monday-Friday routine.
Four years previously, having been together for nine years, we both suffered the pain of bereavement. Within a month of one another, we lost my Nanna and Steve’s Mum. A nudge, if you will, that life is short and time is precious. I was privileged to be able to help my Mum and her sisters and brother to care for Nanna during the four weeks or so that preceded her passing. This was the first time that I had lived a domestic life, ever, and I enjoyed being able to spend time with these strong women, who are my family.
That was April 2009. I vowed that I would work more sensibly in the future.
Three years later, in February 2012, I was overlooked for promotion at work and I was shocked to the core! I had always worked so hard. Everyone joked that I was like a stick of rock with dfs written all the way through the middle. I had assumed that I would be the obvious candidate to take over from our Area Manager, when the time came. The powers that be thought differently – and they were right. (I can say this now, with the benefit of hindsight!)
In April that same year, I was looking at some figures at about 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Suddenly a pain in my right hand side, like a back-to-front stitch, made me stand up and walk. Every time I tried to sit, the pain was so fierce that it brought tears to my eyes. So I walked round and round the showroom until 6pm when for one of the only times ever, I left on the dot, explaining to my team that they would need to close up without me. Although I tried, I wasn’t able to go back to work for 13 weeks.
Diagnosed with a bulging disc, I tried various remedies and fortunately came across The Alexander Technique, a holistic therapy that teaches you to heal yourself. It worked although it’s an ongoing practice. Another nudge that I ought to slow down a bit? I vowed to manage my workaholic tendencies with my new mantra of “Poise and Appropriate Tone.” My teacher, Rachel, had suggested this to me to remind me to only use the muscles that were necessary for each task rather than tensing every single one, just in case! It was not lost on me that I could use this mantra regarding my tone of voice as well as my muscle tone – I had noticed that I was becoming less tolerant in certain situations and I didn’t like it. I had begun to feel that I needed to make a change and I recognised that I was fed up of driving the same stretch of the motorway, to the same building, to say the same things to the same team (much as I loved them!) every day…. Funny how I had literally had to “walk away from my work” as the pain struck…
I’m not the kind of person to bow out with a bad back though and once I returned to work in the September 2012, we started to prepare for the busiest time of the year. I didn’t want to be the kind of manager who left their team in the lurch at Christmas either. So, I worked through the Winter Sale and found myself in January, recruiting and training the team for the new store we were opening on the other side of Bristol. I felt I needed to stay on until the new store had opened after Easter.
In May 2013, we took my Dad and step-Mum to Prague for his 70th birthday present. His birthday was actually back on 30th December and, unable to get leave during that time, I had done a bit of forward planning. Prague was wonderful and we spotted a gorgeous riverside restaurant at which to have lunch on our final day. I booked the corner table on the terrace, with the best views up and down the river. Our last day was sunny and warm.
When we arrived, unfortunately, my chosen table had been taken but I was so relaxed that I didn’t mind and we took a table under the canopy instead. Our lunch was delicious and we had just ordered our second bottle of wine when we heard fireworks. Fireworks in the middle of the afternoon? Really? No.
Within seconds, there was a massive crashing sound and the canopy collapsed on top of us, giving both my Dad and I a good bang on the head. As we opened our eyes, a bit dazed and scared, we could see the devastation around us. Broken glass and overturned furniture. A woman sitting behind us was bleeding. As we crept out from under the canopy, I began to shake and to cry. Luckily, the people who had been at our chosen table had already gone by the time the accident happened and just as well. The big wooden table umbrella was split into so many shards, it would surely have speared anyone who had been sitting there. That is if they hadn’t been killed by the huge branch that had fallen onto the terrace from a tree in a neighbouring property.
The sound of fireworks was actually the sound of the wood splitting away from the main trunk of the tree before the branch fell.
The emergency services arrived. We were given tea and we didn’t have to pay the bill.
Fortunately, nobody was too seriously hurt but people were in shock. There’s a waiters’ station by that table and the waiter said he spends most of his day stood in the very spot where the branch landed. It was only because he was catching an ice-hockey match on the TV inside the bar that day that he felt he had been saved. We were so lucky that we had moved under that canopy; it broke the fall of the branch and protected us.
So, this time it was more than a nudge, right? This was a whacking great, hard-hitting, knock on the head, SIGN! If it had been in neon, flashing lights in Times Square, it couldn’t have been clearer:
“LOUISE JENNER – CHANGE YOUR LIFE!”
So, I did.
A year ago, I handed in my notice. My body reacted with some kind of weird stress-reaction, causing me to come out in hives, which lasted for five days and then disappeared without a trace. By the way, Aloe Vera gel succeeded where the steroids failed!
And, as I said this year, sub-consciously, I ended up working a long, crazy day that took me back to Cribbs for the first time in months to meet a lovely new client after 5pm. A timely reminder that I’m loving what I’m doing now and to be careful that I don’t fall back into my old crazy ways? Maybe.
No hives though, better check for dodgy trees!
If you are reading this and realising that you’ve been ignoring the signs for a while that it’s time to make a change in your life, take heart. Even the hardest decisions can be made. The discomfort doesn’t last long and the positive change of being in control of your life is an amazing reward.
If I can do it, so can you and if you’d like my help, you only have to ask. I’d love to help you through it and to help you avoid getting hit by a tree! Your story will be different to mine but I bet we share some similar emotions!
“If you only had one life, what would you do with it? You have, you know!”
– Marianne Cantwell