Multiple Choices

I do believe that change is eager to please. I believe that, if we treat it as a friend, it will become our friend.
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The publication of my novel The Breaking of Eggs marks the launch of my fifth career. My first was in advertising. My second was spent running a pottery business. In my third, which overlapped with the first two, I attempted to climb the greasy ladder of politics. My fourth saw me reincarnated as a business consultant. Now there is a fifth.

Has this rather eclectic progress through working life been the product of necessity, choice, dilettantism or confusion? The answer, for the most part, is choice.

We now live in an age when it is almost impossible to spend a working life in the same job, even if one wanted to. The pace of technological change, the effects of downturns and recessions, corporate acquisitions and disposals all conspire to make consistency of employment a thing of the past. Now most of us will have multiple careers.

When I grew up, it was different. There was nothing unusual about remaining in one career - often in one company - for an entire working life. If you had a white-collar job in the UK, it was hard to do any different. Pension legislation handcuffed you to your employer.

An abiding memory of my childhood is seeing a smiling father leave for work each morning and a dejected father return each evening. Splitting headaches and depression stalked his life. I decided very young that, whatever else happened to me, a repetition of that pattern would not.

By the time I left university, bathed in the glorious optimism of youth, I had decided on three careers. My entrée would be advertising; my main course would be politics; my dessert would be writing. Things have not turned out entirely differently. But not entirely the same either, and certainly not with the unblemished success record that the young optimist assumed.

The advertising phase could hardly have gone better, nor the leaving of it. I am proud of walking away from a job as managing director of a large agency, with the salary and lifestyle that implies, to embrace nothing. My parents thought I was mad. It is a moot point as to whether they were right.

Political involvement continued and achieved some success. But by then I had the pottery business and eventually a choice had to be made. I was unsure that a political career was any longer what I wanted, or could be achieved. I chose the business.

The business absorbed more than 15 years. For much of that time, life consisted of nothing but work and sleep, seven days a week. It excluded every other interest from my life and put friendships on hold. It absorbed every penny I owned, house included. It eventually went bust. It left me, aged about 50, in debt and living for a time on welfare.

And yet. And yet. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever attempted. On all measures, bar the financial, it achieved an improbable success. And, on top of that, it has been an inestimable help to me as a writer. It taught me things about life and about myself that I would not have learned otherwise. All of us have more opportunity to learn from failure than from success.

Dragging myself back from that nadir was not easy, but did not prove impossible. That was when I decided to write novels. I opted for the flexibility of self-employment as a business consultant to create the space to write. I retained enough self-belief to think I might get published. It helped that I had always felt writing to be my destiny.

Several of the choices I made would not have been possible, or at any rate sane, if I had had a wife and family to support. Circumstances gave me the additional opportunity to be reckless. But I would still have opted for a multiple-choice career.

I am averse to taking small risks, but enjoy taking large ones from time to time. In the end, and particularly now, life and risk are inseparable. Staying where you are, continuing to do what you do, not daring to change, constitute as much of a risk as doing the opposite.

It is surely preferable to embrace change rather than wait for it to be imposed. Either way, the change will not always be for the better. But I do believe that change is eager to please. I believe that, if we treat it as a friend, it will become our friend. And that, if we treat it as an enemy, it will become our enemy.

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