If you’ve been reading my blog recently you may know I went for a job interview a couple of weeks ago. You’ll also know I didn’t get it, but the fact I came so very close to embarking on a completely new life (in the end it came down to a choice between me and just one other person) threw me into a state of reflection and self-evaluation the like of which I haven’t experienced for an extremely long time.
My original career plan was to go into publishing after graduation; I realised pretty quickly however that either living in or commuting to London were both out of the question due to my financial circumstances at the time. Instead I plumped for what I felt was the next best thing but what instead turned out to be the very VERY best thing: a career in bookselling. In fact, to start with it wasn’t even meant to be a career, rather a way of earning some money in a relevant field before I moved on to what I really wanted to do. Fifteen years and several bookshops later and I’m still here. I’ve been a shopfloor bookseller, a store manager and more recently have done some really interesting and fulfilling work in learning and development – but everything I do is grounded in books and the joy I find in them every single day.
And this new job? Well, it was pretty amazing. If I’d been successful I would have had an opportunity to travel all over the UK and to work with some of the leading figures in retail L&D. The responsibility and kudos attached to the role would have been something else. Yet as I sat on the train on the way home from the final assessment day I felt slightly sick. Not simply from the fear of change or nervousness about my ability to take on a new professional challenge but because – I realised later – I couldn’t imagine a life away from the world of books that had come to virtually define my existence for most of my adult life.
In the days after the interview and subsequent rejection I was struck by the fact that I’ve managed to achieve something (through chance I should add!) in my working life from the word go that many people take years to find, and some possibly never at all: I found a career that’s a perfect mirror of myself. Bookselling is essentially me personified and what’s more, it’s also a reflection of almost everyone who works in it. I’m going to put it out there: I’m a little weird and finally, as thirty recedes rapidly in the rear-view mirror, I’ve made my peace with that. I’m sure my bookselling colleagues who’ve also found themselves in it for the long haul wouldn’t mind me saying that a few of them are a little weird too! Books undoubtedly draw in a certain kind of person, and as I sat a couple of weeks ago in a plush Birmingham hotel surrounded by a completely different breed of working people – lovely, welcoming and friendly as they were – I felt my kindred spirits were suddenly very far away from me. My non-booktrade friends would probably tell you they have some people at work they really like, some who are fine and a not insignificant number they’d be happy to see fall under a bus. I won’t pretend I’ve adored every single person I’ve ever come into contact with at work but by and large the proportion of people whose company I’ve enjoyed and who I’ve felt I can be completely myself with has been pretty high. My career in books has given me some of the best friends I could ever have, and it’s no exaggeration to say that at times my book-loving workmates have felt like my second family.
We spend a ridiculously high percentage of our lives at work and so to find a professional world into which you fit without effort is nothing short of a blessing. I also feel now that not getting that new job was a blessing of its own as it made me stop and think about where my happiness really lies. I’ve heard so many people say over the years that you don’t work in the book trade to get rich; you do it out of passion. I see now that my passion is more consuming than I’d ever realised before, and I hope it will keep me at the forefront of this great industry for many years to come.