Claire Monkhouse quit her high-flying job to do some living. What is she going to do now? Not the Scoobiest. Is she bothered? Nope.
I am one of life’s worriers. At school, despite being one of those studious types who always hand their homework in on time and prepare pristine, colour-coded revision notes, I convinced myself I would fail my exams. I imagined staying at home, wearing my huge, hideously unattractive glasses (I will never forgive the 90s for such awful face-furniture) and studying for resits while my friends left for university, spending their days learning new, exciting things and their nights discovering the joyous combination of foam parties and 50p vodka shots.
As it happened, I got straight into my number-one choice of university and, armed with excellent new contact lenses, off I went.
I soon replaced agonising over academic achievements with worrying about whether people liked me and if I was making enough friends. I genuinely wondered whether, being the sort of person that still made it to a 9am lecture on contract law – having been at a vodka-fuelled foam party only hours earlier, but stopped drinking when I, unlike some of my housemates, was still in a semi-fit state to tell the taxi driver where we lived – meant I was a bit too sensible, too shy to be noticed, let alone considered girlfriend material. At times, I believed I was destined to be become the archetypal mad cat lady and die a spinster.
I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self a talking-to. To reassure me that I would get the job as a lawyer that I studied so hard for, to have relationships (some good, some spectacularly awful) with intelligent, attractive men and make amazing friends that always say the right thing and never fail to make me smile. That no amount of worrying would ever achieve anything other than making me unhappy and that sometimes, we should take a risk and not fret unduly about the consequences.
Because earlier this year, I did just that. I resigned. I walked away from the comforting familiarity of my nine-to-five job, where I had spent the previous 10 years building a reputation as a well-respected lawyer – and amassing an excellent collection of high-heels – to put a scant amount of clothes into a rucksack and spend six months travelling with my husband. (A man who, as an aside, I recklessly agreed to accompany on a far-from-sensible fancy-dress pub crawl on our first date, sporting a ridiculously short She-Ra outfit, in spite of the risk that I might bump into a client who would be shocked to see me wearing little more than a bum-skimming red cape.)
“I am a pro at ordering beers in Polish, can count to 10 in Romanian and have accepted that I am no less of a human being for not wearing makeup or having unwashed hair. I have also realised how fortunate I am, having been in the middle of Budapest Keleti station when the refugee crisis was at its peak this summer.”
I had reached the point where, with huge budget cuts and hikes in court fees, the legal system had become the preserve of only those with potfuls of cash to fight their corner and universal access to justice was apparently no longer possible.
Time-recording every minute of my working day and desperately trying to reach a financial target, in a difficult economic climate, meant that my number-one clients were necessarily those that could unquestioningly fork out £200 an hour for my time. I was assessing people on their means, rather than the merits of their case and it felt wrong. I was feeling demotivated, doubting my abilities and knew that I needed some time out to take stock.
Getting married presented the perfect opportunity to escape the routine that had become a bit of a rut.
So in May 2015, we set off to explore Europe on a honeymoon travel adventure, with very little money, lots of enthusiasm and a plentiful supply of antibacterial hand gel.
Over the past six months I have stayed in a treehouse village in sweltering heat near ancient Olympus and had my skin vigorously scrubbed to baby-smooth perfection by a grey-haired, grunting man in a Turkish hammam. I have bruised my bum on a seven-hour journey in an Albanian minibus with dodgy suspension and almost flashed my boob (accidentally) to a Ukrainian border guard who escorted us off the night train at 4.30am, after taking a dislike to my husband’s passport photograph.
I am a pro at ordering beers in Polish, can count to 10 in Romanian and have accepted that I am no less of a human being for not wearing makeup or having unwashed hair. I have also realised how fortunate I am, having been in the middle of Budapest Keleti station – and the hundreds of desperate families camped there – only hours before its closure, when the refugee crisis was at its peak this summer.
“The ‘old’ me would have gone into meltdown about being unemployed for the first time since leaving university and lain awake worrying about the fact that we are currently completely broke.”
Our trip has taught me that time is a more valuable commodity than money will ever be. While there is a superficial level of security in the guarantee of a monthly income, I had become trapped by the thing that I thought was giving me financial freedom but was actually making me unhappy.
So many people said that we were ‘brave’ to be taking off on our adventure or ‘lucky’ to have the freedom of a short hiatus in lives filled with responsibility – but the reality is that anyone can do what we did if you bite the bullet, rather than paralyse yourself with worry over everything that could go wrong.
I think that Martin Luther King was right: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.” That’s certainly who I am channelling at the moment. We arrived home two weeks ago and, having not had any great epiphany on our travels as to how to magically transform my life and career, I am just slowly settling back into reality; enjoying the novelty of being back in our little house and having a drawerful of frivolous knickers to wear, rather than living out of a rucksack and choosing clothes from a limited capsule wardrobe each day.
The ‘old’ me would have gone into meltdown about being unemployed for the first time since leaving university and lain awake worrying about the fact that we are currently completely broke.
I’m not going to pretend that the old me has disappeared completely (and thank goodness, seeing as the old me had the sense to put a bit of money aside to cover some bills on our return) but the new me is trying not to let my mind be completely overtaken with negative thoughts. I actually have no idea what the future holds for me – but I am quietly confident that everything will be OK.2616 Views
Claire Monkhouse is a lawyer, the owner of a large collection of impractical but beautiful shoes and a fan of cake-making, gin-drinking and befriending random cats.