Taking a sabbatical doesn’t happen easily. I made to final decision to stop working the way I always had in September 2017 but on reflection, I knew that something needed to change in my life years before.
On one hand I have built the job of my dreams. I enjoy going to work every day, I am doing something that I love and believe in. To top it all off, I am making a positive difference to a lot of people who really needed some help.
On the other hand I invest almost everything I have emotionally into my work at Forest School. The children I work with are complex. Good, clever, funny, kind, but complex. My staff team are amazing but like any great team, they need good leadership. All of this takes a great deal out of me and leaves too little for some of the other people in my life, me included.
Anyway, the details of that decision are for another day. This blog is about the transition from Forest School Manager to rustic furniture maker/handyman. Not only has it been a challenge to prepare and build a business while working full-time in a demanding job but it has been and still is an emotional rollercoaster.
As I said, I made the decision last September. We were in France in the summer holidays and as always seems to happen, Mirielle and I were a few beers in to an end of holiday ‘put the world to rights’ chat. We got onto the subject of my work (a subject that has caused many disagreements in the past). We talked about it and it just became clear….. I had to make a change.
I came back to work in September knowing that I was going to leave. 18 years of Forest School was not going to be easy to let go of. I wasn’t sure how to even start to let go and make the transition into other lines of work. It truly is part of who I am. I started by speaking to a few people who I really trusted (thanks mum and sis). They were surprisingly supportive which reassured me that I wasn’t being selfish, irresponsible or foolish. This support continued with everybody that I spoke to which has really helped me take this risk to try something different. The big conversation was always going to be with my work colleges. We are a tight group and all depend on one another every day. Despite feeling sure that it was the right thing to do, I couldn’t help but feel as though I would be letting them down. However much you love what you do and the people there, you have to make the right decision for you. This is what I told myself repeatedly as I sat nervously in my van in an Asda car park with my deputy and good friend Joe. I had to tell him that I wanted to leave and I had a strong suspicion that he wasn’t going to like it. It actually went ok and Joe was supportive of me and my decision but admitted that he had some concerns about taking on the responsibility of the Forest School for the year. Joe has something special and I saw it when I first employed him. I can honestly say that in all the years of running the Forest school, he is the only person who I have been truly happy to leave it to. It sounds like I was asking him to take on the responsibility of one of my children. It’s not the same but not a million miles away. He knew it too which made it all the more scary for him. We talked a lot and once the dust settled we started work on the transition towards him taking over. We had a year but there was a lot for him to learn.
Next was the rest of the staff team. We were recruiting for a new member of staff and were being visited daily by potential applicants. It just so happened that on the day that I chose to tell the staff team during a staff meeting there was one of the applicants there. I couldn’t wait another week, it was eating away at me. It had to come out. Well….. the poor fella. I can’t imagine what he must have thought. I was on the verge of tears as I rather clumsily chucked the words out there that I was going. There was an unusual silence and I don’t think anybody really knew what to say. Everybody congratulated me in an odd, half-hearted way and we all went home. I suddenly felt great as though a huge weight had been lifted. To be honest, and I don’t say this to them, my excitement has grown daily since that point. But, I had to keep that in because I had a job to do in getting this place to run without me.
I’m not your stereotypical manager/leader. I’m not as efficient as I could be, I struggle to delegate and I hold a great deal of thoughts and information in my head (not a good way to look after your mental health)! I had to start unloading all of this stuff out of my head into new systems that worked for Joe. I’m very proud and pleased to say that with only 8 weeks of work left before I go, I think we have nailed it! In fact, as a provision, Forest School is better than it’s ever been. The best staff team its ever had, robust financial systems, health and safety and safeguarding is solid, a busy timetable with lots of happy children. As I approach the end of what has been a hard year, I feel content that Joe and I along with lots of support from other people have put the Forest School in a strong place for the future. I can’t describe how happy that makes me.
I could just finish there but I can’t have you leaving thinking it was that easy! Its been tough! Really tough! Never, in the past have I ever taken the time to teach another person to take on a part of my role. As the Forest School has got bigger, my job has just got bigger. Short sighted I know but when you are really busy it is surprisingly hard to make the time to stop and teach someone something so that your job can be easier in the future. The truth is, it’s just easier to do it yourself. This, to some degree is true until of course…. you pop! I’ve popped a few times in my carer when work has just been too much. Even after these ‘pops’ I have struggled to learn to work in a different way. This year though, I have had no other option. It has forced me to start to move an unbelievable amount of knowledge, understanding and experience out of my head (not everything, Joe will have to learn some things by himself). It has been so liberating. As I reflect now I realise that I have been doing my own job, teaching some other people how to do my job, creating a new business every evening and weekend, renovating my house, being a parent and husband and managing a lot of emotions around the change. The odd thing is…. that its been hard but I have had harder. It’s all gone ok.
My conclusion is….. We are all able to achieve amazing things and manage huge work loads. The key, is our state of mind. Before the France trip, I felt trapped and felt that leaving my job wasn’t an option. Of course it was, I was just to scared to address some of the feelings around it. As soon as you have made the decision, all you have to do is keep taking steps towards it. I think that you can apply this ethos to many areas of your life. Make decisions, take risks and make mistakes! This last year gives me huge confidence that not only will next year be ok but everything will be ok. When you strip it all back, it was fear that prevented me doing this sooner.
As Monty Python said,
“you start with nothing, you end with nothing, what have you lost? Nothing!”