My mum studied with the Open University when I was a child.  I remember her being moved by the poems of Heaney and Ted Hughes.  She read us the poems and who knows whether it was her passion that led me to my literature degree.  She didn’t finish hers, the demands of single parenting in the 70s and 80s were tough, with more stigma and less support, but the OU gave her a chance she wouldn’t have otherwise had.  It sent cassettes through the post and she used to watch programmes on the BBC before we went to school.

I did one of my Masters with the OU and then later, after doing my PhD, I worked for them for 6 years.  Their model of remote working was ahead of its time and it allowed me to step into academic work whilst also raising two young children.

The year before the pandemic, I don’t even know why, but I picked up a course with the OU again and was meant to be travelling to Cardiff twice a year to lead workshops.  It didn’t happen. Everything shut down.  But what did happen was some excellent mentoring.  My then line manager, who I have still never met, talked to me about how the OU was changing and what that might mean for me. It was moving from fixed term, contracts to permanent. This made a difference.  It also made a difference, because when all else in education was scrabbling to go remote, the OU had it nailed after over 50 years of experience.

This was coupled with the fact that living on the England/ Wales border was becoming increasingly schizophrenic.  England was abandoning masks whilst Wales insisted on them. My children were in Welsh schools and I was in English.  It was an uncomfortable time, whilst also knowing I was lucky to have work.

I know it was time for a change. I have taken work leaving a UK job without one to go to in Spain. It worked out, I got a secondment and the Spanish job came through.  I jump, but I always have a safety net, so I asked for a sabbatical from my English school and with the full knowledge of that employer, built up my OU work in the meantime, renegotiating how I could continue with coaching on a different contract.

The OU was not only interesting, but it fed into my increased awareness of the climate crisis.  I didn’t want to be driving as much and the OU is home based.  This also meant that I could shop locally and be more engaged in the local community.  It also means that when, where and how I do the work is almost entirely down to me, so if a friend is in the area, I can say ‘yes’ to meeting up. It has allowed me to spend a day a week meeting friends, learning permaculture, doing community projects.  All of this matters to me and is part of a more locally connected life I want to live.

However, being remote, it didn’t provide a sense of belonging, so when a Welsh school asked me to teach a few lessons there, I said ‘yes’ because I know I need to be with people and feel part of a team.  I also continued coaching with the English school which gives me not only connection, but also history and longevity; there are people there I have known over twenty years and that matters to me.

So, having met my need for freedom and flexibility, as well as for belonging and history, as well as financial security in terms of income and pension, I then resigned from the job in England on good terms and with warmth and respect, and fully landed in a new work landscape.

Then unexpected things have happened. As a member of the OU I am allowed to study some of their courses and have loved starting as Masters in Creative writing with them.  The Welsh school has increased my hours and not only am I coaching in the English school, but I am also picking up some work with another university with them.

The final surprise came from a Facebook post in the local community group asking if anyone taught yoga locally. I said that I did but that I hated the admin, at which point a woman I had never met before, offered to do that for me.  So a year on I have taught 23 people yoga, the woman and her daughter get free places and she does all my booking and admin.  The unexpected spin off is that I have met some lovely people in the local community who I just didn’t know before.  I feel as locally connected as I used to do when I stood at the school gates when my kids were in primary school.

So, although I am still in education, and all the work I do now is work I have done before, it is in a completely different form, which suits my needs now.

How I did it:

  • Noticed what wasn’t working
  • Looked for things that would work better
  • Have conversations with all the parties involved and be really transparent about it
  • Do the maths
  • Look at the other needs which work can provide and make sure they are being met
  • Take small steps and don’t do one mighty leap into the unknown, find new things to hold onto before letting go
  • Be open to what else is on offer
  • Remember that leaving anything is sad, I was really sad. Allow time to mourn
  • Remember that staying can feel safe because it is known and familiar. But there are also risks to not updating your work to suit your life now and the unseen benefits of change, are just waiting for you.

This kind of work life doesn’t suit everyone; I have 6 email accounts and I am responsible for the shape of my own week.  Since my kids were born, I have always worked this way, having a portfolio of work.  Just as monocultural crops are good for producing lots that one thing, a linear career, is probably better at producing money. I see contemporaries who have gone up the echelons and earn more than me and have more hierarchical status.

But for me, this polycultural work life has multiple yields; money, the security of having many jobs so if one is tricky, there is more resilience in the field, freedom, time, health, well-being, community, rest, time with my kids, friends and family, variety, cross-fertilisation, flexibility, wide networks of interesting people, continual learning.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.


If you enjoyed reading this please share it with friends. You might also be interested in talking to me about coaching , or maybe try some of my online courses (some are free), or treat yourself to a climate protecting pamper with vegan friendly, organic Tropic which supports the planting of forests and education in deprived areas.
Thanks for being here.