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My friend’s career – earthquakes jolted her into a career reappraisal

June 12, 2013

My friend used to say, “I just want to get married and have babies” – and she did. Five babies, as well as part time paid work and unpaid work in a family business, took up a huge amount of her life, time and energy. As the children started to become independent, her family made a conscious decision that she would be a homemaker in the true sense of the word, and indulge her undeveloped passion for art by taking community art lessons.

A woman reading a book called "Modernism"

Although art was a passion, it took years for my friend’s formal study to start

“What if I needed to support myself?”

In her mid-fifties, however, she suddenly looked back and realised that although she’d launched those five people into their lives and careers – what about her life and her career? She thought, “What if I needed to support myself?” From her experiences of low-wage work, she knew she didn’t want to have to start at the bottom again.

Seeing someone else succeeding – retraining looked possible

It was the Christchurch earthquakes that were the catalyst. “I got sick of doing my paintings alone at home, being frightened of aftershocks and waiting for assessors to come around to look at our damaged house. I realised that I could go to art school – the only thing stopping me was my attitude. I knew another mature student and she made me realise it was possible.”

“You should have another opportunity to persue your dreams”

She realised she wanted a proper qualification and is now doing a fine arts degree. She hopes to  become a fine arts teacher of adult students – or an art tour guide. “It’s a really big passion of mine educating adults – it shouldn’t be a mistake that you went down a certain path – you should have another opportunity to pursue your dreams.”

And how’s it going? Very well – although it was a bit of a struggle re-organising family life – they tend to meet at breakfast these days.

University is “a fabulous experience”

“I love university. The culture of success there is a fabulous experience. Nobody treats me as a ‘woman of a certain age,’ in other words, not worth the bother, which is an attitude I have found rife in the art world towards older emerging female artists.”

“I have just got my grade for design, the final assignment of the first semester and it was another A. Four A+ and two As of the six assignments. Quite proud of myself. We had to choose what we want to major in of the six disciplines today which was really hard because I loved all of them. I am going to do painting and print-making for the next semester and then painting next year.

“My slide test result wasn’t so salubrious – a B – ouch. First exam in 38 years (how is that even possible?). I walked into the exam room and every new academic word I had learned dropped out of my head and remained behind as I proceeded to my seat. It is a side effect of the trauma of the earthquakes that the moment a little bit of stress is detected in your brain all short term memory disappears. Quite a handicap, but as long as I pass the exams I am happy.”

Afterthought – what is a career anyway?

Note: we tend to think of a career as a job, but the full definition of a career is what you do with your life, your work, your unpaid work and family obligations and how you knit that together. Work is part of it but a career is actually all your work in all your life.

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