Making the Leap

We’ve talked before about work, on Any Other Woman, and how, if at all, work should define you.  I am firmly in the “yes it should” camp, many of you vehemently disagree with me.  Lorna sent me this piece and made me realise what can happen when you take one side of that argument to the extreme.  It made me stop, and think about what’s important.  This post is about far more than that, though – it also talks about what happens when you choose a career that you simply aren’t sure about and learn to love it, how you deal with feelings of inadequacy, and how your wage packet all too often defines our selse of self and success.  It’s brilliant.  Thank you, Lorna.  Over to you: 

I wish that I could say I made the decision to change career when I ended up in hospital, limbs contracted painfully as I wheezed and gasped my way through a panic attack that shook me to my core. I didn’t. It had to happen twice more until finally, when I was hooked up to an ECG that beeped proof of my work stress to a concerned nurse, I realised I couldn’t carry on like this.


The thing about doing a job you hate is that it changes your personality. I wasn’t just a bit fed up with work, I was a whole other person. Even worse, I was a whole other person I just didn’t like. I went into financial services after university, like lots of others with an arts degree and no clear ideas of who they were and what they wanted. I started at the bottom, and worked my way up to slightly above the bottom. My colleagues were good people, the work was dull but the banter flowed and I could afford the odd new top from H&M and the second cheapest glass of pinot in the pub. The job evolved around me, and before I knew it I was in a sales team, handling the high level needs of two sales managers and millions of pounds of cases. I got on planes and took unnecessarily short journeys to other cities, drinking wine with lunch and talking big business to people who thought of me as a silly little girl.


I remember getting a new team manager and him talking about how fiery and feisty I was: always ready for a fight and to champion a cause. It wasn’t meant as a compliment. My heart sank as I heard myself described as someone I didn’t recognise. My defining personality trait has always been ‘easily pleased’. I long to be happy with all around me, be entertained and amiable and preaching that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. I laugh loudly and often. I was no longer that person. I felt like a blast-ended skrewt, ready to explode at every comment or word that came my way. I couldn’t relax at home, I was permanently on edge and I was angry about it.


Following the last big panic attack, which the Beta-Blockers I popped faithfully had failed to prevent, I went to my parents for some work-enforced rest. I spent a lot of time thinking about what the hell I was going to do next. The only thing that had ever made me truly happy was working with kids, the holiday job of many a summer. I was just going to have to figure out a way to make it happen and just as importantly, a way to make it pay the bills. Teaching was too competitive, with too few jobs. Most other jobs didn’t pay enough. Paediatric nursing was the best route forward. I would get some funding, so I could afford it, and I was already qualified enough for the course. The application went in, and I was soon offered a place.


This isn’t the romantic vocational story you hear of many nurses, it wasn’t my lifetime ambition. I am most definitely not Florence Nightingale. I liked order, spread sheets, and being in charge. I really struggled to come to terms with my new career. It seemed somehow anti-feminist to become ‘just a nurse’: it wasn’t a job for ‘clever girls’ as I thought I was. I had always felt like an equal of my doctor-friends, and here I was setting myself up as a very visible subordinate. In reality, my doctor flatmate was an incredibly supportive friend during my course, being my educator, counsellor and endless source of hospital gossip. I’ve rarely been made to feel subordinate by our hospital doctors either.


Going back to university was rough. I hadn’t expected it to be easy, but getting used to being flat broke again was a bitter pill to swallow. Not just for me, but for my lovely boyfriend, who had moved from having a stressed and angry girlfriend who could pay her share of dinner to a happy and relaxed one who couldn’t afford to do anything with him. We couldn’t go on holiday, or even make plans in advance because I was permanently waiting on my shifts for placement. He insists he never minded.


By the end of my first clinical placement, I knew I had made the right choice. I am not the usual type of children’s nurse, but I think I’m shaping up to be a good one anyway. I hadn’t realised how passionate I was about standards of care, common everyday illnesses, the plight of children who live with health inequality and my most recent area of interest, challenging behaviour. I complain about rough days, particularly when I have a black eye from a stray fist or had a back so stiff I cannot bend down to tie my shoelace, but I still get up at 6am to do it all again with a smile on my face. I laugh out loud merrily and often.


In the end, I found myself when I held my patient’s hand whilst he died, and whilst comforting a family who had received terrible news. It turned out that in the midst of pain and suffering and happiness and frustration and illness, there I was, standing tall declaring ‘THIS was who you were supposed to be!’ with a gleeful grin.


The boyfriend is now the husband, and we have made it on one holiday. We have made a plan: a big one. He’s accepted a job in LA, so we are moving. In six short weeks I will be a registered nurse. The sense of achievement from this degree is quite unlike my first. If I think about making it this far, I want to cry with relief rather than pop the champagne. I have clocked up 3500 hours of work for the NHS in the last 3 years, being reimbursed at a rate of around £2 an hour for making beds, holding sick bowls, reassuring anxious parents, making animals out of blown up gloves and occasionally being taught something. I have broken my heart crying in toilets, blubbed happy tears over snuggling babies and never felt tiredness like it. In the midst of it all, I am the person I wanted to be, only stronger, tougher, kinder and better. It has been worth every second.

Categories: Life Experience, Money and Career, Politics and Feminism
31 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Sandra C
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    What a great story-thank you for telling it! I find too often we define ourselves by our career/salary, but whilst that may reflect your education/experience/seniority, it is no reflection on who you really are, what you wish to be or whether you’re happy in your skin. It must have made a huge difference having the support of your boyfriend/husband. I’m so happy that you found your way and good luck with the move!

  2. Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    What a way to start a Monday morning. Well done Lorna & may your journey in nursing, LA & life be good, strong & together.

  3. Carly
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    This is such a brilliant post which I am sure will strike a chord with many readers. It certainly did with me – I had a similar type of job to you which was also making me ill and my colleagues were awful too. I quit and got a job as a Teaching Assistant, almost halving my pay! Three years later I’ve nearly finished my teacher training so, like you, I will be hugely relieved when it’s all over, and also just a little bit proud.

    Good on you for making such a huge change. I’m
    so glad it has all worked out for you. And L.A? Wowzers!


  4. Posted June 25, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    This is heartening to read, and beautifully written too. Good on you Laura, I know those leaps aren’t easy ones to make, but the lessons you learn about yourself are ones that will stay with you throughout your life. I can vouch for the fact that nursing IS a clever girl job (as well as a tough-as-nails job) – my mother-in-law is a formidably intelligent and succesful nurse who is currently doing a PHD and loving it. I admire you so much for going through all this and coming out the other side, you should give yourself credit. Good luck in LA!


    • Posted June 25, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Lorna! Blame my early start….

    • Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      I had no idea about the academic side of nursing before I started, but I’ve now presented at a conference and had a paper accepted to a journal. That being said, I’m still happiest when wrestling a 8 year with learning disabilities to stop her putting her hands into her own poo…

      It’s funny, I’ve stopped caring about whether people think I’m clever or not- I just get on with it (and bore people to death with my tales of puss, touching someone’s brain and life-saving acts of bravery*) but I wonder if I felt like that, are we putting other young woman (and men) from coming into the profession? Nursing definitely is long overdue for an image overhaul.

      *not actually true

  5. Emily
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Lorna, this is an amazing story and so well written. I hope all goes brilliantly in LA – what a change! x

  6. Zan
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Fantastic story Lorna, thank you for telling it. Just perfect for yet another Monday morning :) To echo what Penny said, I know a few nurses including my partner’s mum and they are some of the most compassionate and strongest people I know. There’s no such thing as being ‘just a nurse’ as I’m sure you’ve found out, you’re always so much more than that!

    Good luck with the move to LA – send over some sunshine!

  7. Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I too am a big fan of nurses!

    Good luck Lorna – wonderful post and so much luck in LA! Probably the best thing to read on day 1 of self-imposed unemployment. Let us all know what LA is like! xx

  8. Esme
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    This is a great story and has a message for us all. You should be so proud of yourself for making the jump – most would not. I am in awe, actually.

  9. Helena
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I’m so happy to read that it is possible to depart the corporate world for something so much more rewarding. If only I could do it myself! This was such a great post to read, thank you. Congratulations on getting through your training and good luck for the move to LA!

  10. Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I was in a job that did that to me once upon a time. The release of letting go and being who you’re meant to be is an awesome, life changing experience. I wish you nothing but the best for your adventures in the U.S….but do come back and tell us all about it x

  11. Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Such a brilliant piece of writing, and you are so brave to have jumped ship and found the thing that brings you alive and makes you happy.

    I completely identify with how you felt in your previous job, when you hate what you do everyday it starts to change the person that you are. I haven’t yet found the job that makes me happy, and I’m currently doing a masters and am in that phase that you were in, where I’m chronically anxious, nauseous, fretful and miserable. This post gives me hope that I will find what I want, and I will stop being a person I can’t stand to be around. Thank you.

    K x

    • Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      It does get better. I was so glad I went to my GP in the end. I really wasn’t coping well, I wasn’t sleeping and I needed support. It really helped to have their backup when speaking to my work about changing some small things in my workload. I know masters are a whole are breed, but you will be finished soon!

  12. Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Found myself crying at this part: “The thing about doing a job you hate is that it changes your personality. I wasn’t just a bit fed up with work, I was a whole other person. Even worse, I was a whole other person I just didn’t like. ”
    This is what happened to me and I had to make a change.
    This is a wonderful post Lorna!

  13. Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for all the lovely comments, it’s always encouraging to hear other people’s stories. My best friend left the same job as me at the same time as me for the same reason, and today is her first day as a proper grown up podiatrist. I am SUPER proud of her. We’re both in our (late) twenties, and it’s strange being at the bottom of the ladder when you should be well on your way, but the move has been amazing for us both.

    As for LA, I am very excited and very scared! It’s a big move, but it will be sunny and warm most of the time, so that makes everything easier. I am sure I can manage a few posts on the glitz and glamour of being an academic’s wife to send along to AOW…

  14. Sarah
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Great read Lorna! Inspiring stuff – and for the record you sound extremely clever and capable. I’m glad there are nurses like you out there!

  15. Frances
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Such an inspiring story and really interesting to read – thank you!

    I am genuinely curious – was there ever a moment when you thought “What if the new career isn’t right for me either?” I think this is what would make me pause the most before making the leap.

    Good luck in LA – please come back and tell us more about your adventures!

    • Posted June 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I honestly don’t know how it would have worked out if i’d hated it. I think I’d reached the point where I was so desperate to change, I was willing to try anything.

      I have doubted myself a hundred times- I let an old man go into kidney failure by mistake and didn’t sleep for a week because I felt so guilty (I was in first year, and it wasn’t technically my fault, but I will always feel responsible.) I threw up during the first surgery I ever got to watch. It has been FULL of setbacks. There have also been moments where I knew with absolute clarity I was where I was meant to be, and they’ve got me through.

  16. Robyn Dearden
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorna,
    Nice to read, and also to see how you were feeling at the time when you left. You and Jen have both done fantastic. Remember when we first met, starting the same job on the same day wondering what the future would hold. Now we’re both doing something completely different and I’m so pleased and never regret changing career into something I love.

    good luck for LA

  17. Sam
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful! Good on you for making that leap, and it’s wonderful to read that it’s all come together so nicely for you. Can we have an update in a year about how it’s going in LA? How exciting!

  18. Heather
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Lorna, I’m finding myself tearing up as if reading my own story. How much has changed in 10 years?! I can hear and see the ‘laugh often and loudly’ Lorna well and I love her! I’m thankful for your willingness to take a risk. The joy you find in loving on children is a gift that will surely never go to waste. I hope to make it to LA to visit when y’all move over or better yet, when you need a break you are welcome any time down to hang out with Byron and our sweet girl!

    BTW: You’ve always been high on my clever friends list!:)

  19. Heather
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Haha! I meant to say, ME, Byron and our sweet girl! I want to be there, too!

  20. Laura
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    This has made me feel a bit emotional and cheered me up no end all at the same time. Inspiring, and superbly written (I especially identified with the occasional new top from H and M and the second-cheapest glass of wine in the pub).

  21. Annéka
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic Story Lorna!

    I also gave up a job I hated to go back to Uni. On Friday I officially qualify as a primary school teacher and like you I will probably just cry! I’ve been to hell and back this year but its been totally worth it.

    Good luck in LA – enjoy life and laugh lots xxx

  22. Jen
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Lovely to read at the end of my first day! It’s strange to think about how we were such completely different (miserable) people we were just three years ago. Despite being skint and working every single weekend it’s been worth it. Please don’t leave! Xx

  23. Pamela Erwin
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    “In the end, I found myself when I held my patient’s hand whilst he died, and whilst comforting a family who had received terrible news. It turned out that in the midst of pain and suffering and happiness and frustration and illness, there I was, standing tall declaring ‘THIS was who you were supposed to be!’ with a gleeful grin.”
    So proud of you dearest!! Brilliant writing as always, from one of the smartest girls I know. Love you, and looking forward to having you on this side of the ocean for a little while. Pam xoxo

  24. Joy
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Exactly how I feel standing in a classroom sometimes, coming from youth work, amazing where we’ve all ended up!! You are a star Lornie, and a very good writer to boot!!

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    [...] post, by Lorna, is brilliant.  Not just because it has footnotes, but because it calls out the moaners, the [...]

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