I have spent the past seven years in London working my way onto one of the most established women’s magazines in the country, Grazia magazine. But after less than a year, I quit my job and headed back to the North East… jobless.
When the idea of leaving was just that, an idea, I began to notice article upon article detailing the decisions of thirty-something women who had packed it all in and hot footed it out of the Big Smoke.
When I read that, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 58,220 people between the ages of 30 and 39 left London in 2013 (the highest number on record ) I felt like, at 28 years old, I was in good company.
My love for the city and the deep rooted idea that ‘the best jobs are in London’ kept me within walking distance to Zone 1. Until now.
Critically aware of the fact I was still in my student overdraft (gulp), had no savings and was paying over £1,200 per month to rent a drafty, ex-council flat – I knew that at some point I would have to make a change in lifestyle.
Would I move out to the leafy suburbs of Surrey and commute into London in a bid to ‘have it all’? Or would I head back to the North East where a cheaper, calmer life surrounded by my family awaited?
I chose the latter. I left London at Christmas and decided to pursue a life in the North East with the same resilient and unwavering attitude I possessed in 2008 when, just one day after I graduated from university, I turned up in London… jobless. (See, there’s a theme here.)
Yup, the recession was upon us but I was fearless, hungry and felt like the third wave of feminism was propelling me forward. Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ mantra hadn’t been put out to market but the ideology was still there. If I was going to stand a chance in the media industry then I would need to give it my all. I didn’t have a job and I knew just two people when I arrived but I temped, volunteered and worked my way into some of the most recognised media companies in the UK. But undeniably, it came at a cost.
I would never make the big bucks it would take to enable me to see my family as much as I wanted. I wouldn’t be able to own my own home unless I was willing to commute three hours a day, which when nights in the office often finished post 10pm, wasn’t an option.
That sucks. But it was the desire for a better work/life balance that gave me the final push.
My weekly life was eating dinner at 10pm, having to pay for a weekly taxi so I could make netball matches in time and weekend spent travelling around the country to visit family, friends and ex- Londoners who had relocated for the very same reasons. The majority of the time I was exhausted and skint.
It seemed every morning as I gulped down extra strong coffee on the number 38, I was reading about how the 30-somethings were leaving London and the urgency to move home and start a life before I became too invested in London grew.
I managed to convince myself (and my fiancée) that this was the best move but there’s still a niggling, guilty, Sheryl Sandberg-shaped hole that keeps creeping in. I met Sheryl once. Like the true fangirl I am, I got her to sign my notebook. She wrote the words ‘lean in’ and I was thrilled. Now it’s haunting me.
Have I made a brave life decision that matches my valiant arrival to London at 21 or am I guilty of not leaning in, just when society needed me to go that extra mile?
I feel proud to have made it in a city so far away from home, in an industry that is going through difficult times but as a woman on the brink of taking on a ‘senior’ role I worry that I’ve given up at the crucial moment, the moment that would go a small way in addressing the fact that women make up just one third of senior management positions in the UK.
Fortunately, there’s another fire burning that makes me secure in my decision. Why can’t I have what I want? If the same opportunities aren’t in the North East then I can create them. If I need to start at the bottom, then so be it. I’ve got a two-year head start on the thirty-somethings, right?