It was early 2002. The long, dark winter was finally being pushed aside by spring, and all around me there were subtle signs of a new season; a fresh start. Daffodils, although still tight in their buds, had returned to the back garden, cherry blossom was in evidence on the trees and, when I woke up for work each morning, it no longer felt like nighttime.
That particular evening, the air was unusually mild and, after a rather uninspiring day at the call centre, me and my friend from high school, Natalie, took an invigorating cycle ride to the sea. It was here we had a flippant conversation that, unbeknown to us at the time, would see us both take a very new and exciting path in life. We were fed up with our jobs, that much was clear, and as we pedaled out our frustration along the briny coastal road, we discussed our options for the future. Despite having both left school with good A-Level grades and our heads bursting with ambition, here we were four years later stuck in dead-end jobs and living at home with our parents.
In a nut shell the conversation went something like this: ‘we could go to university’, said Natalie, ‘what’s stopping us’, I replied. And after a bit of research the following day we discovered that actually, nothing was stopping us. So that was that, it was decided (although I’m sure neither one of us believed for a second that we’d actually go through with it).
However, fast-forward six months or so and, fresh from quitting said dead-end job in the call centre, I found myself in London queuing with a group of grungy 18-year-olds for the keys to my new student digs. Natalie was doing something similar, at a different university, in a different town. So, for the next three years, the University of East London became my world. There I learnt a thing or two about the media industry and a lot about standing on my own two feet. For the first time in my life I had independence; I was away from my family and friends – out of my comfort zone – and although it was daunting at first, I soon started to love my London life. I made new friends from all around the country, and even some from overseas. I very quickly discovered there was more to this small-town girl than just a call centre headset and a home-cooked meal from mum. But even then, tucked away at the back of my mind, was the thought that when my three years of fun was up, I’d head back home and pick up where I left off, re-start my old life back in Clacton. And then I met Tom.
In 2005, Tom – a trendy design student from Goldsmith’s – breezed into my life wearing black skinny jeans and the new Marc Jacob’s fragrance, and he has stayed there ever since. He was – and still is – totally at odds with the baggy-jeaned, checked-shirted Essex boys from my hometown, which is probably one of the many reasons why I fell for him. So, rather than leaving London after graduating and heading back east, I moved west with Tom and we set up (a rather tiny) home together. I eventually fought my way into the media industry and Tom started a career in design.
And that pretty much encapsulates the past decade of my life and today, as I’m sat in my central London workplace (not a call centre headset in sight), adorned with a recently acquired sparkly diamond on my left hand, I feel very lucky. Yes, I may have a bit more student debt than I would’ve liked, and I know if I were to live the past ten years all over again, I would do more than a few things differently. But I’m very glad that, in the words of self-help author Susan Jeffers, I felt the fear and did it anyway!
It does amaze me how such a seemingly insignificant event has the potential to affect life in such a hugely significant way; for that one simple conversation set the wheels in motion for something altogether more complex, and those wheels have been spinning faster and faster ever since. Of course, maybe it was my destiny to move to London, to go to university, and to meet the man I’m going to marry, and perhaps one way or another I would have wandered along that path whether I’d had that conversation or not. But still, I can’t help wondering how things would have turned out if, on that unusually mild spring evening in early 2002, Natalie and I hadn’t gone for that invigorating cycle ride to the sea.