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LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 02-Jun-16 11:50:59

Did you give up your career for love?

After carving a life for herself in the dawn of Swinging London and then leaving it behind, author Brigid Keenan tells us how moving from place to place led to revelations she never thought possible.

Brigid Keenan

Did you give up your career for love?

Posted on: Thu 02-Jun-16 11:50:59


Lead photo

"I found the greatest professional success of my career at the age of 70."

I left school early (at 16), didn’t go to university, and then married late (at 33), which meant that I had a whole decade and a half to build up and enjoy a wonderful career – until love sabotaged it all.

I started as a typist, taking dictation (in my newly acquired shorthand) and typing out letters, which I often put into the wrong envelopes and then had to re-do.

Next, the typing pool at the London headquarters for a group of provincial newspapers where my boss was the fashion editor and would sometimes ask me to help her write the captions for the photographs.

After a year or so, I was recruited by the Daily Express as a fashion assistant and I wrote my very first article for them – it was so bad that the fashion editor passed it round the office so everyone could have a laugh. I was timid, innocent and a fish out of water, however within a year or so I went to the Sunday Times where, by an astonishing piece of luck, I became Young Fashion Editor of the paper. I was just 21 years old, it was 1961, the dawn of Swinging London, and probably the best ever moment to be in fashion journalism.

But then, in 1970, I fell in love with a young diplomat whose life was always going to be in foreign countries and, quite soon, I had to make a choice – to follow him or stick with my career. Of course, I chose him and for a couple of years I enjoyed the best of both worlds. But then he was posted to Brussels and I gave it all up and went with him.

Moving from place to place breaks down barriers and leaves you open to everything, non-judgmental, unsnobbish – and somehow if you have this state of mind, things happen to you.

It was the first time since I left secretarial college that I wasn’t working in an office. I remember going to a dinner party and the man beside me asked me what I did, and for a moment I was tempted to put my head on his shoulder and sob, ‘I don’t know. What DO I do? What am I? Who am I?’ but in fact I gave a nervous little laugh and said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I suppose I am a housewife’, and he moved his chair, just slightly, towards the woman on his other side and never spoke to me again.

As we were posted around the world, I mourned my glittering career, but gradually the things I had learned working on newspapers and magazines turned out to be useful in my new life. In journalism, the most valuable commodity is IDEAS: ways of looking at things differently, stories – and I began to look for stories in the places we were posted to. When my husband was sent to Syria, I spent every available moment researching and exploring the Old City of Damascus and ended up writing a book about it.

When we were posted to India, I became fascinated by Kashmir and eventually published a traveller’s guide to the country.

Moving from place to place breaks down barriers and leaves you open to everything, non-judgmental, unsnobbish – and somehow if you have this state of mind, things happen to you: stories, ideas, contacts, luck – they all erupt around you.

Another piece of advice for life is to keep a diary. When my husband was posted to Kazakhstan, I fell into a depression because I didn’t speak Russian and couldn’t find any stories, and so, in despair, I decided to turn my chaotic diary - written for decades in notebooks but also on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper - into a book. It became a best-seller and so, extraordinarily, I found the greatest professional success of my career at the age of 70. Never give up hope!

Brigid's new book Full Marks for Trying is published by Bloomsbury and is available from Amazon.

By Brigid Keenan

Twitter: @BloomsburyBooks

grannyactivist Thu 02-Jun-16 14:48:22

Moving from place to place breaks down barriers and leaves you open to everything, non-judgmental, unsnobbish – and somehow if you have this state of mind, things happen to you: stories, ideas, contacts, luck – they all erupt around you.

I haven't had opportunities to travel so much, but over the past forty years I've had people from a great many countries living with me and I would say the same is true of that.

granjura Thu 02-Jun-16 15:08:06

I did, temporarily - but always studied and prepared to ensure that I would have my own career again at some stage. Went to Uni as a mature student when our youngest started school, and DH was more than happy, although it was very difficult because of his own very time consuming and demanding career, to support me in doing so.

annodomini Thu 02-Jun-16 15:22:34

I suppose I could say I sacrificed my prospects for marriage and child-rearing. Maybe it was love at one time! We got married when my contract in Kenya ended and my then fiancé had 8 months to run on his. When we returned to UK, I was 5 months pregnant and he got a temporary job in teaching. When DS2 was 18 months I got my first evening class and from then on had a succession of part-time jobs both day and evening. We followed his career around the country, so I didn't have the chance to stay long enough in any one college to work my way to a position where I would have had a chance of promotion. When we moved to Greater Manchester, and he found 'a new interest', I did get full time work in FE, but there were few opportunities for promotion, as colleges were merging and there was a surfeit of senior staff. Still, I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Juggernaut Thu 02-Jun-16 15:46:31

Not my career exactly, but an opportunity.
I had been interviewed for a job in Hamilton, New Zealand.
I was twenty five, still living with my parents, hadn't met anyone 'special' and the idea of a few years on the other side of the world appealed. I had (and still have) a very good friend in Hamilton who I could live with until I got on my feet.
On a Thursday I received a letter offering me the job, I had until the Tuesday of the following week to accept or otherwise.
Over that weekend, I was going to break the news to my parents that I 'may' be going to New Zealand, and depending on their reaction, make my decision.
I'd booked a table at a very posh restaurant, for the Saturday evening, to perhaps 'soften the blow' a bit, but was dreading telling them.
On the Saturday morning a young man who worked with my dad came to our house with some papers for dad to sign. My parents were out when he arrived, so I made coffee (tea for him) and we sat and talked whilst waiting for them to return.
I took my parents out for the meal as planned, but had already decided that I wasn't going to New Zealand, as the young man who called at the house was 'the one'. We were married two years later!wink
I used to wonder sometimes what direction my life would have taken if I'd not met him that day, but that way lies madness, so I stopped thinking about it. Anyway, I wouldn't change my DH, or any part of our life together, so I know I made the right decision!
And.....he still won't drink coffee, awkward all the way!

thatbags Thu 02-Jun-16 17:08:21

An opportunity for me too. I think it was expected by both our families (and by us!) that the woman support her husband's choices. If I were in the same position now at the same age and in the same situation as I was then, I would grab the opportunity and hope my husband would support my choice. With hindsight it probably wouldn't have made much difference to ^ his^ career path but it probably would have made a big (and good) difference to mine.

No-one is to blame though. Attitudes change.

TriciaF Thu 02-Jun-16 17:40:57

It was the opposite for me. He was in a senior position in local government and because there were shortages at the time, and I was qualified for the job, got me appointed in the same service.
We had 3 young children when I went back to work.
Well, I went back to work before that actually, when we were in Singapore, and I suppose that was his influence too. Youngest born there.
I loved my job, and it's one of the few things for which I'm grateful to him. And our 3 lovely children.

M0nica Thu 02-Jun-16 17:57:42

My answer to the qustion posed is 'it depends on the circumstances'.

Getting married did not affect my career at all, except, a few months after we married DH was asked to go to his employer's office in New York for 11 months. He was a last minute replacement for someone who had become ill. I had just started a new job and would have to leave it after a few months, I would also be unable to work in the USA and we were saving every penny we could to buy a house.

We thought about it and my career prospects and earnings were a key factor in turning the offer down. DH also discovered that while the experience would be fun, it would not advance his career an inch and the money on offer could not compensate for my lost earnings.

DH was straight forward with his managers as to why he wouldn't go; that it was financially disadvantagous to us as a couple and for me as an individual. His manager looked at him in amazement and said 'If I tell my wife we are moving somewhere we go whether she likes it or not to which DH replied 'You may speak to your wife that way, that is not how I speak to mine.'

rubylady Fri 03-Jun-16 01:19:48

I gave up my career in nursing for the love of my little sister. She was four at the time, I was 19 and was going to go on the night shifts but my mother was an alcoholic so I didn't want to leave her with my sister as my mother was far worse overnight. We do what we have to do.

janeainsworth Fri 03-Jun-16 08:34:58

We have both modified our work to suit the other at various times.
We went to Hongkong in the mid-70's for his work - an experience I wouldn't have missed, but which certainly affected my work, and then later on, he had to work away from home for years, because the children were settled in local schools and I was settled in my work.
Give and take. Doing what seems best at the time.
That's what it's all about, isn't it? If you start thinking you've made 'sacrifices' then that can breed feelings of resentment.

M0nica Fri 03-Jun-16 09:35:43

janeainsworth I absolutely agree. DH's work required him to be a way from home a lot, often at short notice for indefinite periods of time. This meant that most of the responsibility of childcare, managing the family 'business' fell on my shoulders, which did, to an extent, limit my career potential, but marriage is a partnership and, as you say, one does what seems best at the time.

rubylady, yours was a far more difficult choice. Caring for our immediate family places far more of an imperative on us than adjusting careers.

My younger sister received severe head injuries in a road accident and from the start the doctors made it clear that she would not make a full recovery. She was single, so had no husband or children to care for her and I can remember thinking that, with our parents being nearly 80 and my youngest sister also single and needing to provide for herself that I would need to take on the responibilty of caring for her. In her case her injuries proved so severe that she died several days later, so I did not have to make that change, but in circumstances like yours, and mine might have been, there is so little choice.

SwimHome Sat 04-Jun-16 13:36:06

My (ex)DH said when he asked me to marry him that I would have to give up the particular path I was following. It never occurred to me to (a) call his bluff or (b) to say that unless he was happy for me to continue on that path I wouldn't marry him!
No, I didn't resent giving it up as I have lovely children that I might have missed out on otherwise, but I DO resent that he demanded that of me and I was too **** (substitute any appropriate word) to argue. (No way would it happen now!)

SusieB50 Sun 05-Jun-16 08:25:25

I've read Bridget Keenan's books - well worth a read ,very funny too but can't remember the titles !!
I met my husband just as I had started student nurse training . He was very keen for me to give up and marry ( so young and pliable then ! ) Fortunately I resisted and completed and became qualified . He did however succeed in dissuading me to continue with midwifery and have our own children ! My nursing was a lifeline however as he was made redundant twice and I was able to work full time to keep a roof over our heads . He also retired early due to ill health. Now thanks to my working for 30 years my meagre NHS pension is again keeping a roof over our heads. Still wish I had completed midwifery though .....

Mumsyface Sun 05-Jun-16 08:32:09

Life experience, global or domestic - I wonder how much difference it makes to our attitude towards the EU, and our decision as to which way to vote in the referendum. I have heard so much about why Britain should leave from folk with little or no overseas experience, and very little in that vein from people who have lived and worked abroad. Clearly not a wide ranging survey, but is it just the people I come into contact with or an example of how personal experience shapes world view?

janeayressister Sun 05-Jun-16 09:59:38

Yes I gave up my career and possible fame for love. My husbands job moved us around and besides my lovely career, I also lost groups of friends. I did keep in touch with everyone and we meet up from time to time, but it is not the same as being near by.

I was thinking about retirement recently. My life, of cooking, washing, cleaning and organising our social life , has remained exactly the same since retirement. It is my husbands life that has changed more dramatically.

I know I should make him participate more in the mundane tasks but it is the word 'make' that is the key.

If I have to wait for him to realise that he is sitting on a pile of the freshly gathered in washing from the line, watching a football game, to do a job, I would wait until the cows come home!

frue Sun 05-Jun-16 11:41:26

How I love gransnet. Good to know I'm not alone in kicking myself for having gone along with husband's career moves to the detriment of mine. Hope my daughter and daughter in law are more assertive

Blinko Sun 05-Jun-16 15:02:03

I too 'went along' with DH's career choices only it wasn't quite in the way described by others here. Shortly after DS2 was born DH was made redundant. This was the 1970s when the bottom fell out of the homegrown manufacturing industry. He was offered an insecure, dead end job with no prospects. Instead, he wanted to make his own way, working from home and looking after the DCs at the same time. This meant me going back to work full time to a reasonably paid, pensionable job. My salary was supplemented by his earnings.

I suppose it worked financially, but longer term, DSs felt they missed out as I wasn't there enough. It seems you can't do right for doing wrong, sometimes. Or perhaps it's just the male of the species hmm