Finding Balance on Her Own Terms: “Single by Choice; Childfree by Choice”. Laurie’s Story – On Doing ‘What Suits You’

Work-Life Balance Profile #14: Laurie Macpherson

Introduction to Laurie’s Profile

I once read that you can tell a lot about a person by the wording they use when setting email ‘out of office’ messages. There are those of a controlling nature, specifying instructions for every eventuality; those full of apology, betraying a sense of guilt for the absence; those that are blunt, or full of typos, appearing to have been hurriedly drafted as though the author already had one foot out of the door. You get the picture.

The first time I emailed Laurie, I was taken aback by the assertiveness of the ‘out of office’ message I received in response. “I don’t work weekends”, it stated affirmatively, leaving the reader in no doubt that here is a woman who values her time, sets clear boundaries, and does not mince her words.

Once I met Laurie, (virtually on Zoom, thanks to ongoing Covid restrictions and the small fact that we live some 300 miles apart), I quickly learned how true to form her OOO was. Fiercely passionate about her career, and her rights to claim her time both during and outside working hours, Laurie’s interview packed a punch. She kept me on my toes, speaking at a rate of knots in her strong Glaswegian accent; assertive, self-assured, and protective of her vulnerability, yet at the same time honest, empathic and funny.

Indeed, she did not mince her words. Unafraid to provoke or shock, she addressed some emotive subjects head-on, like bullying, depression, and female misogyny.

Unintentionally, all the female subjects that have featured in my ‘Work-Life Balance Profiles‘ series to date are mothers. So I was delighted when Laurie approached me to share her perspective as a single woman with no caring responsibilities. “Childfree“, she corrects, not “childless“; the distinction subtle, but important.

It’s a vital perspective to consider along the spectrum of work-life balance choices, and one that I’ve been keen to include in my collection.

It’s not just working parents that have to worry about their work-life balance“, Laurie argues, a point she preaches not just through her carefully crafted OOO, but through her business practices too. “Single people have a right to feel proud about prioritising their life over work”.

Having overcome self-doubt and the judgements of others over the years, she wears the pride she feels for her own hard-fought priorities on her sleeve. And, graciously, seeks to use her assertive and self-assured voice to encourage and inspire others to do the same.

Work:Life Ratio

60:40

Laurie’s Work-Life Balance Profile

Dubbed on LinkedIn as a ‘career wing woman’, Laurie Macpherson is a career coach and mentor who owns her own business, The Grow Consultancy, advising people on career choices and job applications. Before becoming self-employed, Laurie worked for many years in the retail sector and also travelled all over the world working as a holiday rep and on cruises.  

It’s just not in my DNA to sit still”, she says, explaining her strong work ethic and drive. That said, Laurie is resolute that there is more to her life than her work. “I’m single by choice and childfree by choice”, she told me straight off, adding: “that doesn’t mean I want work to be my only ‘thing’”.

A spontaneous and sociable person, Laurie loves meeting up with friends and going out to pubs, restaurants and the theatre. She also enjoys reading, watching TV, and having the odd early night when it takes her fancy.

When Covid struck, Laurie’s work and social life all but came to a standstill. Rather than remaining locked-down alone in her flat, she sought a job in her local Tesco store. “I preferred to have something to get out of bed for in the morning”, she explained, and every little income helped. Once the jobs market started picking back up, she quit stacking shelves to focus on building her business from her dining room table.

Over the course of lockdown, Laurie’s working hours grew to span the entire day. She gradually found herself working all hours to service her clients, was exhausted and realised that she was devoting less and less time to doing things that she enjoyed and that were good for her physical and mental wellbeing.

She consequently made a conscious decision to set herself some ground rules: she created a “cloffice” (essentially a desk inside a cupboard) to separate the work and living spaces of her small flat, curbed her working hours and raised her fees as her knowledge grew, rendering her clientele more selective. Since then, she says, her income has grown by 40% and she is a lot happier.

Of her balance, Laurie says she feels that she has finally reached her optimum: “I’ve got a lovely life. I love my work, and I love what I do”, she says, though has no qualms about setting firm boundaries, claiming:“I don’t feel guilty for not answering emails out of my working hours”. She is intent on demonstrating to the next generation of employees and business-owners that a healthy work-life balance can be attained without being detrimental to an organisation’s operations and bottom line: “If we show them what can be achieved, then they can do it too”, she argues, leading boldly by example.

Bulletproof

Laurie was bullied as a schoolgirl. I’m starting with this point not because it shaped the person Laurie grew up to become, but because – surprisingly – it didn’t. Well, perhaps it did shape her in some way; but it didn’t overcome her.

Laurie was well aware that she didn’t fit in at school, and she says that she didn’t care. Her enthusiasm for amateur dramatics provided constant bait to attract the bullies’ attention, though Laurie made a point of never showing that their taunting bothered her. She was resolute not to curb her passions, however unfashionable they were considered by her peers. “I wouldn’t give it up”, she states defiantly.

Despite her exclusion from the mainstream social scene, Laurie says that she never felt alone. She socialised in a close-knit crowd of what she describes as “unusual pals”: “One was a goth, for example, one had a facial disfigurement etc. We were all just that bit different”, she explained to me matter-of-factly, with a hint of pride.

She describes herself as a decisive and a rebellious child, which explains what possessed her to stubbornly continue attending drama and elocution lessons despite the bullying. But what also explains it is the secure standpoint that she came from, and the supportive network around her. She says that her parents found her rebelliousness “entertaining”, and that they were “super proud” of her for standing her ground. Together with her peer group, her loving family made her feel totally accepted for who she was. And they still do.

Laurie as a school girl, growing up in Glasgow. She made a point of never showing the bullies at school that their taunting bothered her.

Laurie looks back now with some satisfaction at the benefits that her drama and elocution training have afforded her in adulthood, including strong public speaking and presentation skills, which are the foundations of her career success. She smiles as she rhetorically reflects on who’s having the last laugh now.

Laurie’s defiance to withstand the criticism of others has sustained throughout her professional life, and has played a significant part in her ability to establish a healthy work-life balance. She described, for example, the workplace culture of the retail industry she worked in for many years and how frowned upon it was for anyone to take a lunch break:

They just wouldn’t do it”, she said of previous male bosses, and they also wouldn’t give time back to those that worked through their lunch breaks. Laurie saw this as an unnecessary and unproductive punitive approach, which aggravated her. But – as was her way – she stood her ground, and rebelled by taking lunch breaks, despite her colleagues’ disapproval.

What’s more, once she herself became a retail manager, she encouraged her staff to take breaks, and honoured their time in lieu – practising what she preached.

To this day, Laurie maintains that same headstrong confidence and sense of self: “I won’t do anything that I don’t want to”, she states, and she refuses to allow herself to be bullied for anything.

Her mantra, she says, is “just do it” (which sounds impressively emphatic when said in a strong Glaswegian accent!).

I’ve always believed in not asking permission”, she told me. “You’re much better off getting into trouble for doing something than asking for permission and being told no”.

Her message – to herself and her clients – resounds loud and clear: when it comes to following your passions, don’t let your fears stand in your way:

Stop overthinking it and just do it”.

She introduced me to the notion of the “f**k-it finger”. Hovering over the “send” or “publish” button? Just do it.

Making choices according to what you want sounds so simple, though of course this is something that many people struggle to do. A number of my blogs have touched on this theme, and the various reasons that people don’t feel able to “just do it”: fear of failure (as described in Marsha’s story); caring obligations (as described in Ali’s story); workaholic compulsions (as described in both Darren and Jhilmil’s stories). The list goes on…

Here again, Laurie represents the rebel, the exception to the rule: she recognises that her choices are unconventional; but that has never stopped her before. She argues that at the end of the day, you as an individual alone are the one to profit or to lose out from the choices you make; and that you should make the choices for yourself, without worrying what other people think or want. And, as before, she practices what she preaches.

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

Laurie is mindful that the isolation she experienced as a single woman living alone during the Coronavirus lockdown is a world away from the claustrophobic chaos that many of her counterparts who are parents lived through, juggling working from home with home-schooling their children.

Lockdown was boring”, she reflects. “I put on a stone, but I didn’t lose anyone”. She reasons, “If the worst thing that comes out of this is that I have to lose some weight, I’ve done alright”.

Nevertheless, she is candid about the blatant peer pressure that surfaced during lockdown; a sense of dismissal at the challenges that she, and other single and childfree working people, experienced. She refuses to apologise for being open about the struggles that she had to contend with. The subject stokes something in Laurie and she speaks passionately about the childfree woman’s rights to “own” her time.

She told me about how as a full-time employee in the earlier stages of her career, she had to contend with expectations that she was available to work when working parents weren’t. It frustrated her immensely; so much so that she would purposely arrange after-work plans to justify leaving the workplace on time: “I’m as entitled as anyone to have my time as well”, she argues.

Laurie in the earlier days of her career, travelling and living all over the world as a holiday rep.

The dominant rhetoric of women’s struggles at work centring on the balance of motherhood with careers similarly grates on her: “We all make our choices”. As a woman with no caring responsibilities, she is often made to feel that judgements and expectations in the workplace are moulded around this. Again, her mantra about taking responsibility for your choices resonates.

Nothing about having children has ever appealed to Laurie. She explains quite plainly: “It looks like hard work and not much fun”, referencing “snotty noses” and the like. At that, we both laugh, mutually amused, albeit from opposite standpoints: she the observer; me the mother of three children. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the simplicity of her argument, the dryness of her humour, the honesty in her expression. She goes on to say:

I don’t have a crystal ball; how do I know if I’ll live until old age? Who knows, maybe I’ll be alone with no one to care for me; that’s not a reason to have a family”.

This is another reason, she told me, that she volunteered to feature on my blog – this perspective needs to be told, she argues. It’s not just working parents that have to worry about their work-life balance. Single people have a right to feel proud about prioritising their life over work, and not feel selfish for not having caring responsibilities.

Invariably, Laurie argues, it is women (not men) that drive an unhealthy sense of competition, and she reflects with some sadness that in her experience, “women-haters are often women”. Certainly throughout her career (and at school too), those that have cast the harshest judgements on her have been female peers, colleagues and associates.

Despite her confident manner, Laurie admits that she has not been immune to Imposter Syndrome. “Over the years, I’ve been convinced that others are more corporate than me, or more qualified to do the job”. How has she overcome this? “I come from a line of strong women”, Laurie says.

She gave me the example of a time that her mother was diagnosed with a chronic illness while Laurie was living overseas. Worried for her mother’s health, Laurie considered cutting her season short to return to care for her, to which her mum asked dryly if Laurie had requalified as a nurse or something. Laurie replied that she, of course, had not. “In that case, don’t come home”.

Laurie stayed abroad and feels reassured that their regular cheerful chats brought some respite to her mum during that tough period. Her mother was resolute about managing her illness without impinging on her daughter’s independence, and it’s clear to see where Laurie gets her humour and defiance from.

Be it nature or nurture, it seems evident that the inner strength that enables Laurie to manage her ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and overcome her self-doubt is emboldened by the unconditional support she gets from her trusted network, as well as her experience of learning on the job.

This, in turn, affords her the authenticity and authority to coach her clients to “just do it”.

It also explains her tendency to help others; both professionally and in her personal life with family and friends. “I’m constantly tempted to try and “save” people”, she says. Conversely, she is intent on not needing to herself be saved, which, she explains is partly why she has no interest in being in a committed relationship: “No one is coming to save me”, she says, explaining why she has never “seen the need for a boyfriend”.

Happiness is… being in the right job, at the right time

Laurie knows from personal experience how damaging staying in the “wrong” job can be. So damaging, in fact, that in her case, it resulted in a bout of depression and a whole host of physical ailments, including skin rashes and the development (or coincidental discovery?) of a breast lump (thankfully benign). The strain must have been clear from her appearance as Laurie recalls a friend telling her:

“Your body really does not like that job […] you need to jack it in. Who are these people you’re working for, and why do you care?

I hated the job”, Laurie told me, “and I was terrible at it”. Nevertheless, it took Laurie a full six months of misery before she eventually “jacked it in”. Laurie acknowledges that although she felt that she was “terrible” at her job, she was successful in reaching many of the targets expected of her in the role – a classic case of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, you could argue.

Regardless, the job, which required relocation, didn’t meet her expectations and certainly didn’t bring out the best in her. Partly what made it so insufferable was that the managers she worked for had no work-life balance: “It was just work, work, work”, Laurie said, “I just wasn’t taking good care of myself and developed low-level depression”.

Laurie took the bold move to quit with no other job lined up; but she knew that it was what she had to do for the sake of her mental and physical well-being. Again, she had the security and love of her family to fall back on, and moved back in with her parents. Within six weeks, she had found a new job and, she describes, “the lights came back on”.

Interestingly, when Laurie went back to hand her keys in to the employer that had made her life so miserable for six months, he too remarked on how much brighter she seemed once she had left the job. She remembers him saying to her: “You’re the person I hired”, as it hit home how changed and withdrawn she’d become working in an environment where she felt unhappy and unfulfilled.

Self-employed and happy at work

Laurie says that she is now so aware of the detrimental impact of making “wrong” choices concerning her happiness and wellbeing, that she is “exceptionally mindful” of what she does. This goes further than the job choices she’s made since then; she also chooses not to watch or read news items or articles that she knows will “wind me up and make my mind spiral”.

That’s not to say that she cuts herself off from reality; but she knows herself, knows the limits of her resilience and sets boundaries to protect herself from harm. Guilt doesn’t come into the equation.

I don’t have a people-pleasing bone in my body”, Laurie states, which seems to be the key to enabling her to make clear-cut decisions about “what suits me, and what doesn’t suit me”. So, for example, if she is asked to work on a weekend, she will hold firm to her work boundaries and turn down the job: “Either they’ll hire me or they won’t”, she shrugs.

Without any dependents to fund, Laurie is in the fortunate position of being financially secure enough to live within her means, so she is comfortable taking such a decision. She muses that “money is useful for buying and having things”, but she has no burning desire for a fortune beyond that.

When it comes to finding happiness, Laurie’s enthusiasm for her job is intrinsically linked to the balance that her job affords her to do the things she enjoys and to relax when her working day is done. She has modest expectations for what that might involve. It could be as simple as sitting on her sofa watching a comedy show while drinking a “glass of fizz”. That’s her prerogative.

She feels grateful to have the means to live alone and enjoys her own space and company. She says that “loneliness doesn’t come into it”:  

“I’ve lived on my own for twenty-four years. And I wouldn’t change that”

Towards the end of our Zoom call, Laurie shared how now feels like the right time to be back in Glasgow, building her business and enjoying her home comforts, which include living in the buzz of the city centre and being close to her family and friends. Her days of travelling the globe as a holiday rep and living out of a suitcase are a thing of the past, though she does hope to travel more once Coronavirus restrictions lift again. Similarly, she couldn’t imagine herself working all hours for a retail employer again, though has no regrets of the career path that lead her to where she is.

I’m in a good place now”, she concludes. And, however tiny her cloffice is, it’s all hers; and it is a happy place.

If you’re interested in being featured in the Work-Life Balance Profiles series – or would like to nominate someone you know to share their story – please get in touch.

You can follow my blogging journal on Instagram @afinebalance_blog, or subscribe at www.a-fine-balance.com.

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