One of my favourite Sophie Kinsella novels is The Undomestic Goddess. It is the story of Samantha Sweeting, an over-achieving, high-powered corporate lawyer who, on the day she will learn whether or not she’ll become the youngest associate ever to make partner at her firm, discovers that she has made a rudimentary mistake that cost one of her firm’s clients 50 million pounds. In a blind panic, she flees her office in London, somehow arrives in the English countryside, and ends up working as a cook and housekeeper for one of the estate owners.
The thing is, Samantha can’t cook.
Or do anything even remotely domestic. Yet, she doesn’t quit the job because she needs to prove to herself that she’s capable of doing anything, even something as “simple” as being a housekeeper. Naturally, hijinks ensue as she tries to keep her employers from finding her out; she meets a hot guy and worries about whether they can really have a future together when her life as he knows it is built on a lie; etc., etc., etc.
I recently reread The Undomestic Goddess during a time when I was worrying about my employment future, and trying to pretend I had control over everything by planning it all out. You see, ever since being laid off from a really great job and joining the ranks of 1000s of short-term, benefits-less contract workers, I’ve been trying to figure out not only what my ultimate career goal is, but also all the little steps I need to take in order to get there…
…do I still want to apply for faculty positions? (I’m still ambivalent about that, btw, as my previous post can attest.) If so, I need to ramp up my teaching and my writing.
…do I want to start my own consulting business? If so, then I have to start thinking about developing a business plan, sussing out the market, getting a loan, etc.
…do I want to have a research position at a university again? If so, then I need to be prepared to move out of the province, and even potentially out of the country.
…do I want to work in the public service again? If so, then I need to make peace with the idea that I might never get the faculty position I’m not even sure I want.
And on, and on, and on.
There’s a scene in The Undomestic Goddess where Samantha is having a conversation with Iris, one of the townspeople to whom she has become close. Like me, Samantha is worried about her future and trying to figure it all out. Iris gently tells her that she needn’t worry so much about planning her whole future. Sometimes, it’s just enough to know what you’re going to do next.
It had been a long time since I’d read this book, so Iris’ statement stopped me in my tracks. (Figuratively, of course. It’s hard to be stopped in one’s tracks when one is sprawled out on the couch under a fuzzy blanket.) I’d forgotten what a powerful idea it is, especially for over-achieving, super-powered, Type-A-but-in-the-best-possible-way people like me. Powerful, and also relieving. I could actually feel the tension draining from my shoulders as I remembered that I don’t have to have everything all figured out right now, and that I can just enjoy my life and let whatever happens next just happen.
Especially since what happened next was pretty damn awesome.
I was offered a wonderful job, doing amazing work, with some very cool people. It’s another contract position, of course, so I will still have to do some planning ahead.
But not yet. I’m just going to enjoy my work, and take advantage of the incredible learning opportunity that I’ve been given. This job is my “next”, and for now, that’s enough for me .