I have just finished reading “Start something that matters” by the founder of TOMS shoes and I enjoyed it and it made me think about the work that I do. When I lost my job in marketing, my boyfriend (now my husband) and I sat down and thought about things. Marketing in the corporate world was making me unhappy, I felt uncomfortable that all I was doing was helping someone else get rich, with nothing bigger than that.
We decided that I would volunteer for a while in teaching (whilst working part time in marketing) and then, if it went well train as a teacher. So I did. However full time teaching does not suit me, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped to and it really didn’t fit well with my personality. So I did a MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy. This allowed me to bring together all of my business skills, my love of the arts and knowledge of the education sector and here I am two years later as a self employed arts manager.
But reading the TOMS story made me doubt myself and the work that I do. Why aren’t I making such a big difference such as shodding poor children? Throughout the book there are images of the founder and his team being surrounded by children hugging them, with everyone in tears of joy. I finished reading the book feeling like I needed to be making a bigger difference.
Then I thought – well hang on. I am making a difference, I help to bring the arts to a lot of people in one of the most socially deprived areas of the country, the arts genuinely does make a difference to people’s lives, not least in helping to raise aspirations in an area where many people have no aspirations for their future. I could have gone back to my very well paid work as a marketing manager, instead I have chosen to work in the arts and quite a lot of my work is here in my community.
I also run a Rangers group, the Senior Section of the Girl Guides. I turn up week after week, spend my spare time planning sessions and going on training courses to improve what I offer to these girls. I want more young women to be involved in the Guiding movement. It does have a bit of dorky reputation and I genuiniley don’t know why, we do some great stuff, with fabulous opportunities – including going to Norway in 2014. I also want less affluent people to be involved, there are funds available to support those who don’t have much money. I feel like I am becoming a mentor and a role model to these young women, at one of the trickiest times of their lives – 14 years to 25 years old.
But is all of this stuff glamourous? Does it make great photo opportunities for me surrounded by people hugging me and thanking me profusely? No, it doesn’t. A lot of the time it is hard work with little thanks. But that is ok, I am not doing it for accolades, but I am making a difference to my community – the decidedly un-glamourous Thurrock. At the moment my Rangers group is small, and I am not helping that many people through the arts. But even if I just make one of my girl’s day better, take the pressure off when they are sitting exams which count towards their GCSEs when they are just 14, help the 16 year old adjust to the work load of doing A levels and teaching them meditation to help them manage the all out stress of being a teenager then what I do is worthwhile.
There are hundreds of thousands of people like me all across the country, quietly doing our thing, working with the community, like a local Tai Chi club, set up as not for profit, the people volunteering to do walks for life, girl guiding, being part of the St John’s Ambulance, running food banks, which places like Thurrock are needing more and more of. Un-glamourous work, turning up day after day and doing what is needed and what matters. Let’s celebrate that – doing something that matters.