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39 is fine: travel goals turn to work goals

Back from holiday and jet lagged, I had plotted to write about music at 40, since discussions while driving down the west coast of New Zealand had turned to mix tapes and CDs and a giant stereo I adored from Currys (in the sixth form, not now, obvs).

But something else has come up and I feel the need to write it instead. So perhaps mix tapes for another time.

So, the something else. Work.

Are you where you want to be in your career as you turn 40? Or were you, when you turned 40? Is career a priority, even? Well, for me, it really is, and I've made a big change...

After two and a half years I'm no longer working at Metro, I'm going back to my freelance life. And I'm scared. Scrap that, petrified. I have a new notebook, which clearly says 'OK, here's the plan', but, er, it's new so inside it's empty.

I woke up yesterday morning, ready to go to a web writing course, which was booked as I want to get into digital writing. Print will always be my first love. There's a thrill of seeing your name in a glossy mag that I find hard to match. But the internet is, it seems, here to stay and I want to be part of it. I want to learn how websites work. To write for them and be part of their instant publishing ethos.

But yesterday morning I felt none of that drive, I felt overwhelmed. Where to start? What if nobody wants to hire me or take my ideas? There's bills to pay, and I am out of my comfort zone. I'm competing with digitally trained website-savvy millennials who know the zeitgeist and how to write with all the LOLS.

I told myself I am not good enough and am going to fail. Because this is what we do, isn't it? I've even written and deleted emails offering my services and ideas, suddenly consumed with self doubt and thinking 'why would they want me? And why aren't I the head honcho accepting CVs?'

And then I got an amazing email. Not from a website offering work, but from someone I went on a girls holiday to Mexico with about 15 years ago. She'd read an article I wrote, recognised me and wrote to say how amazing it was how far I'd come.

Now this isn't some 'wow look at me after all!' lesson. The point that slammed home harder than the coffee I'd just made was that we are always doing better than we think and will give ourselves credit for. To other people we are amazing, successful, good at what we do.

While we talk to ourselves like we are second rate, others are potentially seeing us as brilliant. If only we could see ourselves the same way.

Imagine for a moment, three friends and what they do for work. I bet you can name things they do that make them brilliant, and amazing and top of their game. They're either promoted, or getting training, or living the three-days-a-week dream, right? Or self employed, that holy grail. (Note: Self employed people seem very, very free. They are often also very, very skint and never stop checking emails. That grass is greener but the work over there - or should that be here?! - is non-stop).

As I approach 40, I want to be proud of what I do, to be known for what I do. I want to be one of those women who is called on to write my thoughts on things. I want to be a name in the journalism industry. I say that as if I'm not but I guess I am?!

In an ideal world I want to be known as an author and journalist, to be a name people grab from the shelf in the bookshop, to be interviewed about my next novel.

The question is, why do I need to do all this before or as I turn 40? What if, in September when I'm 40, I am still struggling to secure commissions and get work on websites? Will that mean I've failed and it's all over?

I think for me partly it's about legacy, if that's the right word. I don't have kids, so none of that 'my biggest success is my family' lines for me. My legacy is my words, my book, what I write is part of who I am, and that's why it matters so much to be recognised.

I've not chosen career over family, but writing is my thing and I want to be better known for it.

So here I go into the freelance fray. Sometimes it feels like the first day of school, when you're trying to fit in with the cool girls and you mail a new contact with ideas.

I feel like I'm waving a flag, screaming: 'please want me! Please want my idea! Please please be my friend today!'

I love the kudos of being a writer, and seeing my name in print and online. But is that the best reason to do it? Should work be that 'be all and end all'?

I also always hope my articles reach out to people and let them know they're not alone in feeling a certain way.

Writing is such a competitive world and I think I'll always feel as if I'm only doing half of what everyone else is. That I'll always read someone else's article and wish I'd written for 'that' publication. That I'll always feel I should be doing more, achieving more.

I'll stare at other writer's and editor's instagrams and think 'She's cooler than me, She has a better job', and all the while they are probably doing the same with another person's photos.

Is it more important to say what you do than who you are? I've got very used to being 'Jenny from Metro' and doors that opened easily to me with that title won't do so much moving forward, I know that.

It's so scary I couldn't lie in this morning. I know! As I said to The Boyfriend, who spends many of his waking hours trying to convert me to being a morning person, 'Amazing what panicking about your career will do to your snoozing ability'.

I am not at the peak of my writing career, for sure, but I'm not on the first rung of the ladder, and as I approach 40 I want to at least be trying to climb higher. To not be working on something that's too easy, or too simple. Challenge drives me, and if you're the same you might be thinking about whether you're where you want to be in your career at 40. It's a good time to take stock. While it won't be the end of the world if I'm not running a website in six months, there is an argument that there's never been a better time to say I want to do more, be more, achieve more, learn more. The one advantage I have over those millennials, after all, is experience. And the fact I can remember mix tapes, which is surely a cultural gift?

So here's some lessons from that lovely email I was sent, which I will cling onto as I career (see what I did there) headfirst into the crazy world of freelancing. I hope they'll resonate for you and where you're at in your career too...

  • Tell yourself you're amazing. Praise yourself. Even make a list of what you have achieved in work since you turned, say, 30.

  • Try not to panic. I spend most of the day panicking that I'm not doing enough. Channel the panic into productivity, use the energy to send one more email, apply for one more new job.

  • Be true to you. Do work that you find fulfilling, and that sits well with your values. Work for brands you respect and admire and are proud to say you work for. But at the same time, be humble. If someone wants you to work with them but it's not that cherry on top of the cake brand, give it a go. Work isn't all about the huge goals.

  • Go easy on the comparison. There will always be someone doing better or more than you - or at least seeming to. Accept it. Accept that they have an award, or a contact you don't have. Then let it either spur you on, or let it go. But don't spend time dwelling on it, as you won't get paid for that.

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