Barbara's blog: The Accidental Regulator
This year we went on holiday separately as Son and Daughter, who are 15 and 16 years old respectively, have such polar opposite preferences that compromising would have meant ‘half-way happy’ and we all know that just means somebody is going to be half-way sad.
Husband and Son hired a cabin in the woods, by a lake, and spent the days hiking and exploring, and the evenings enjoying sunsets and star gazing. Daughter and I booked a hip hotel in Shoreditch for an arty break and crammed in as many visits to art galleries and exhibitions as we could.
Polar opposites. I wasn’t joking.
Having such different interests made me think about how we replenish our energy. According to well-publicised lore, introverts do this by spending time by themselves in contemplative activities, while extroverts achieve the same result by socialising.
The kids are a case in point. Daughter is a highly social animal that thrives on being hyper-stimulated, by people or experiences, and loves the hustle and bustle and sensory overload that London – or any big city – provides. She starts college next month and will study art, design and photography, subjects that allow her natural ability to capture the intangible energy that she feels during these interactions and transform it into stunning paintings of people and places that pulsate with character.
Son, on the other hand, is more solitary, a deep thinker a little prone to catastrophising, happy to revel in a world he creates through gaming. He comes alive with friends, who love his clever sense of humour and his acute sensibility. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of cars which he would like to channel into a job designing vehicles, which suits his lateral thinking, detailed drawing style and contemplative nature.
Hindsight is a wondrous thing, but I wish I had understood myself better before I committed to career – and life! – choices. Some of the decisions I made were driven by externalities, such as the desire to leave home and find my own path rather than the one my mother had already set out for me, but still... Before my current role, I had a successful career in the arts industry, working as a designer and a lecturer, but never felt like I belonged, always a little bit of an outsider in a microcosmos of like-minded people. I left the field to take a job in a local company, which was more family friendly than long hours and a commute, but felt stifled by the office politics, the cliques and the parochial outlook. I missed having a sense of purpose, but also the breathing space that a larger organisation can offer. I also pined for London, my favourite city in the world, so I took a leap of faith that things would work out (with two young children, an au-pair and a husband working shifts… what could possibly go wrong!), applied for a role at the aviation regulator and was successful.
For the first time in my whole working life I felt at home. The organisation is large enough to create a sense of collective consciousness, but small enough that we are still treated like individuals. The role ignites my need for purpose, as I work with stakeholders to address climate change, the most crucial existential threat of this century. The policy side provides intellectual stimulus and the strategy side unleashes the creativity and panoramic thinking ability acquired from my previous training. It is the most perfect role I have ever had.
Would I have applied for a job in regulation had I known myself better? Probably not. Our career choices are after all driven by our intellectual ability, interests and life conditions at the time, not just our personality traits, and perhaps it was only luck that helped me to find my path, but I certainly count my lucky stars that I am not just half-way happy, even though I might be an accidental regulator.
Barbara works for the aviation regulator and lives a stone’s throw from the South Downs with her 16 year old creative daughter, 15 year old ingenious son and supportive husband.