The importance of taking time away from work
Today is the day, it's the first Monday in January, the day we are rudely reminded what an alarm clock sounds like and remember how it feels to be squished into a packed tube train or stuck in traffic on an angry motorway.
When I worked in the city I had mixed feelings about this day. Part of me loved the return to order, the neatly packed tote bag and the structure of the morning routine. I enjoyed donning the uniform of shiny shoes, straightened hair and opaque tights and I liked swinging my walking umbrella beside me as I strode purposefully to the tube station. I liked rising early on this first morning, feeling groggy but enjoying the quiet energy of the secret world of darkness that reveals itself whilst others sleep.
There is an uncomfortable narrative I am seeing a lot of lately, on Instagram in particular, that if you work in the corporate world your work life is somehow lacking, that you should be actively seeking to jump ship and set up your own business, or perhaps retrain as something deemed more ‘creative’ or ‘fulfilling’ (however those words may be defined). This assumption that everyone should want to leave the corporate world overlooks the very real fact that many people enjoy their jobs, they get enormous satisfaction from the intellectual challenge, the achievement, the money and the status that comes with a successful corporate career.
I felt all of these things when I worked in banking, I liked my job, I was good at it and I had a reasonable amount of success with it. But as much as I enjoyed the work, I became increasingly aware of the lack of creative stimulation and inspiration in my working environment. I spent too many hours looking out of a homogenous office over the glass edifices of Canary Wharf and far too few hours in nature. Too many hours with work colleagues with whom I had nothing in common, and not enough time with people I really clicked with, people that made me feel enriched and alive.
It can be really hard to make friends when working in the corporate world as so often the only thing we share with our colleagues is the work itself. For true friendships to blossom we need to connect on other levels too, over the books we read, the restaurants we like, the exercise we favour and the holidays we take. Serendipity can bring us marvellous friends at work but I’m sure I’m not alone in having spent far too many evenings at office Christmas parties wondering why on earth I’m doing there, with people I know I wouldn’t socialise with if I didn’t happen to share an open plan office with them.
Whether you love your job or loathe it, working in the corporate world can be tough, it can involve hard work and long hours that can encroach on our precious weekends and evenings. We sacrifice an enormous amount to sit at a desk all day - walks in nature, lunches with friends, quiet afternoons at home and a level of autonomy over our own routines. Many of us don't reward our hard work well enough, or even really recognise it. I wish now that when I was working in the corporate world I’d understood the importance of taking time to pursue enriching and stimulating interests outside of work as a counterbalance, rather than trying to fill an emptiness by spending the money I earned on clothes (or whatever) to make up for the time I was spending at work.
My experiences of working in banking ultimately shaped the Bleak House Experiences that I now offer as part of my business. I know what it feels like to not be able to spend time in nature each day or surround yourself in beauty. I know what it's like to spend your days with men in blue shirts and be too tired in the evenings to think about studying something therapeutic or do any exercise. I know how hard it is to make friends at work and also how hard it is to make friends outside of it when you spend so many of your waking hours in the office.
I knew right away when I sat down to plan the first Experience that it would centre around friendship, inspiration and beauty, as those are the things that I felt were so lacking in my life when I worked in the city. My desire is to create a world where we can talk proudly about our work and share our ideas, to feed off each other whether we work in an office, a studio or at our dining table, and whether we are a lawyer, a garden designer or a photographer. I want to offer the opportunity to visit beautiful places and discuss books and create the space in our heads to learn new skills. Most of all, it's about taking some time away from our everyday lives so that we can return to work feeling positive, stimulated, enriched and excited.
In these darkest days of January a world of sunshine, spring flowers and green grass feels very far away but it is absolutely something we can hold on to to get us through this tiring week. Having something to look forward is so important as we settle back into the routine of rising early, commuting in the dark and tackling our bulging email inboxes. This morning, whether you are commuting on a packed train or a busy motorway or simply padding from your bedroom to your dining table as I am, I hope your working week goes well and that you enjoy being back. I hope that you can ease yourself in gently, before the helpful industriousness kicks in.
(Photo of a house in Hampstead by Lauren Keim)