Well hello and a Happy New Year to you. I’m back to blogging a little later than planned because we had guests until 30th December and then went over to Newcastle for a family funeral so it turned out to be busier than we expected. However everything went well and mum-in-law declared it to be ‘the best Christmas for years’ – phew!

Reflections on a midlife decade

Even though it’s ten days old now, I feel as though I need to start off with some reflections on a midlife decade. The break didn’t allow me a lot of free time to look back at the year that’s gone, never mind the last ten so as I start to type, I don’t know where this post will lead me. However I always think a little introspection is worthwhile when you’re moving on, as we all are. I’ve been looking for a 2010 ‘throwback’ photo to use as a starting point but I’ve found that there are hardly any of me. In those days I was the person behind the camera and talking to my friends it’s seems that’s so often the way. Mums often appear to be the ones who capture happy family times and so they remain invisible behind the lens… forever.

After some searching I managed to find one but first I’ll put it into context. We were on holiday in Croatia and it’s the boys who really illustrate the passing of time, they were six, eight and thirteen. How I’d love to go back to having them at that age, even though the eldest was just tipping into the moody teens as you can see.

Midlifechic sons

That 2010 holiday felt special because for the first time in years we’d splashed out on an apartment. You see we’d spent the noughties working hard to build our business. We ploughed everything into it and so holidays always involved throwing everything into the car along with our tent and heading over to France. I love camping and we had great fun on those road trips but they weren’t very restful. By the summer of 2010 we were weary. In addition to juggling the boys and our work projects we’d been supporting my mum through two years of gruelling chemotherapy which had taken its toll on the whole family.

Here she is just before we left for Croatia, looking relatively well which meant we could go away with light hearts (and yes, this was clearly taken before the boys had their holiday haircuts. It’s funny, they seem to go to the barbers every three weeks now but it used to be such a battle then).

Almena Sowerby

So here’s the one photo that has me in it. From Mr MC’s face I suspect the youngest was taking it because it looks as though he’s thinking ‘please don’t drop it’ – of course those were the days when you had one family camera rather than a phone in everyone’s hand.

reflections on a midlife decade

So what do I think when I look at her, that clear eyed woman in the photo? Well first of all I marvel at her smooth, make-up free face… and rue the sunburn that was such a part of every holiday, now showing up as age spots and wrinkles. But on closer examination I can see a tranquility in her that I’m not sure has ever returned. You see 2010 turned out to be the calm before a year of storms.

The start of the 20-10s

2011 was, for us, our annus horribilis. Until then we’d remained unscathed by the ‘great recession’ and most of the people we knew locally had too. We’d watched with horror as it unfolded and friends in London lost their jobs and businesses and teetered on the brink but apart from Mum’s cancer journey, we were doing ok. We’d expanded our business, taken on staff, another director and city centre offices. We had a good spread of both local and national clients and so after eight years of hard work, it seemed that the risk we’d taken by leaving our secure Selfridges jobs and striking out on our own was paying off.

Then, at the beginning of 2011, the recession’s ripples reached our shores. Our core sectors were retail, tourism and education and one by one our clients were hit by the drop in consumer spending and government cuts. By the middle of the year we found ourselves clinging on. We had just one large, apparently well-funded retail client left… and that summer they crumbled into insolvency, owing us tens of thousands of pounds.

We had no choice other than to cut our business down to the bone as quickly as we could and then dig deep to survive. Nobody was spending on marketing so there were no new contracts on the horizon and one of the reasons that we’re such fervent supporters of the Food Bank is that we saw how quickly hard times can come. Of course there weren’t Food Banks then and thankfully we didn’t reach that point but we had to live to a very tight budget and I’ll never forget how very careful I had to be with things like the weekly food shop. For the first time I was grateful for the lack of credit that had been available to our generation as students and early on in our careers – the 80s and 90s had taught me how to make money stretch.

Of course life has a way of throwing bad things at you all at once and while all of this was happening we were given even worse news – my mum was diagnosed with not one but two new primary cancers. So when we weren’t battling with the business, we were madly juggling the boys so that I could help to look after her along with my sister and a battalion of caregivers. Just before Christmas in 2011 she lost her fight.

Looking at my 2010 photo, I wonder what I’d say if I was given the chance to walk past that woman in Croatia and whisper a little something in her ear. Would I warn her of what lay ahead? Absolutely not, I’d want her to enjoy the rest of that holiday because the memories she made will make her smile for years to come. My message to her would simply be ‘whatever’s ahead, you’ll work it out, dig deep and you’ll find the strength.’

So as we dug like mad, the 20-10s went on. We had another crisis when a rogue builder disappeared with a chunk of the money that Mum had left me but I’ve told you that story before – of how our friends rallied round us with their skills and their humour to help us finish our half built house extension. Like anyone in their 40s we had the shocks of sudden bereavements which are always the biggest of the bumps in the road but lots of good things happened too. There are too many to mention but the best were all centred around simple times spent with the right people.

As we go into a new decade, it’s hard to pin down the difference between the woman I was in 2010 and the one that I am now but putting it simply, I’m more aware. The last decade taught me that things can go wrong very quickly. When they do, there are some problems such as my mum’s cancer that you just can’t fix. The only thing you can do in those situations is face them head on and get through them. Other difficulties can be dealt with and although it felt impossible at the time, our business situation was one. We had to swallow our pride, pull together and work harder than ever to build it back up, step by step. And we did.

So even though it wasn’t an all-out easy decade, I’m saying thank you to the 20-10s – in the end good things came from the knocks. We discovered that neither of us had enjoyed running a bigger business because it meant we had to take on projects that we didn’t really want in order to feed the machine. So since then we’ve been happy to operate as a boutique agency with lower overheads, focusing on projects we enjoy and clients we like. Going through that experience also gave us a new empathy and we both now do quite a bit of pro bono work which brings a completely different kind of reward.

I’m pleased that the boys saw us work hard through tough times and come out of them. I hope it’s equipped them with a balanced view of life and warned them that it can spin on a sixpence as my dad used to say. We taught them that you just have to look and you can find ‘free fun’, after all who needs fancy sledges when you have a dad in a big bivvy bag?

reflections on a midlife decade

And, more than anything else it’s good to know that when the chips are down, Mr MC and I pull together. We saw lots of our friends being driven apart during the 20-10s so I know that we’re lucky. People were surprised on our wedding day by our simple vows that said “I promise to put a smile on your face every day” but we’ve stuck to them and they’ve stood the test of time.

Going forward into 2020

So here we are, all of us older and wiser in our last family photo of the 20-10s. In the decade ahead, the boys will all step into their own lives and who knows what adventures lie ahead.

reflections on a midlife decade

I’ll leave you with my final photo of 2019 taken on New Year’s Eve when I deliberately wore one of my oldest sweatshirts. Being able to say “je ne regrette rien” with meaning feels like enough of an achievement. And if I was asked to anticipate what my 62 year old self will say when she looks back at me in ten years’ time, I suspect it will be “whatever happens, make the most of it.” So that is what I plan to do – and I hope you will too.

reflections on a midlife decade

Boots (now in the sale, gifted AW19); Atterley coat, Whistles sweatshirt, And/Or jeans all past season

I’m not going to cover the sales because they’re now just full of things that nobody else wants so next week I’ll be talking about something else. Before we move on though, I hope you find time to dig out one of your 2010 photos (if you have one!). There’s something restorative about reflecting on the decade, both the good bits and the bad and working out how it made you who you are today.

Happy 2020 everyone, it’s good to be back.

Disclosure: ‘Hello 2020 – and reflections on a midlife decade’ is not a sponsored post

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