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  • Writer's pictureHaulwen Nicholas

Reflections on a 20-year career

On 23rd November 2018 I had worked for 20 years in packaging.

In this role I've worked for manufacturers of wet wipes, of cheese & butter, of packaging itself, I've worked for a government "quango" (though they never liked that term) about reducing food and packaging waste and I've worked for a major brand who make yogurt, and supply milk to most of your breakfast tables.

I never planned a career in packaging. In the UK no one does as there is limited training and no university degrees. Whereas France, Germany, Sweden, USA etc. all have degree programmes in packaging and people plan careers in this subject. (I have spent the last 5 years trying to rectify this in the UK, but to no avail).

I did a degree in Environmental Biology and I'd planned on working for people like the Wildlife Trusts, The Environment Agency, or other environmental organisations. I envisaged a life in steel toe cap boots, combat trousers, with warm fleece and waterproofs driving a van or Landrover around the countryside doing testing, conservation work etc. So how did I end up in packaging?

When I was at University I went as a mature student, I funded myself by working in part-time jobs in term time and in my holidays. This was my mistake, It soon became clear on leaving my degree that my odd days doing volunteer work for my local wildlife trust and being a farmers daughter, who'd been involved in conservation and outdoor work since I could walk, was not deemed relevant. If I wanted to work in the UK countryside arena I should have gone and done conservation work in South America, in Australia, basically anywhere but at home in the UK. I was told, we want you but you'll need to do 2 years volunteer work. This was full time volunteer work where they needed me to be flexible at a moments notice to attend events and do emergency conservation work.

I'll be honest I was devastated. The crunch came when me and another woman from my University applied for the same role. Going onto Welsh Farms giving advice on grants and conservation to welsh hill farmers. I didn't even get an interview, the other lady did and we had identical degrees and qualifications and our CV's and letters were in the same format. I phoned to ask why I didn't get an interview, my friend asked as well as she felt I had more relevant experience 1) I was a farmers daughter and she'd barely set foot on a farm in her life and agreed that she barely knew one end of a sheep from another.  2) I had a basic knowledge of Welsh and she spoke none. But it came down to the fact she'd gone and done conservation work overseas, because she'd had a family who could support her to do this and I hadn't had the funds too.

I soon realised that I couldn't afford to go and work in conservation. I needed to earn money, I didn't have anyone who could cover my costs for me. If I did volunteer work I was told I couldn't get any job seekers allowance etc, because I would be "working for free and not available for paid work".

So as I'd done when I'd been at University I began temping. I got offered a job at a large bank but I turned it down, knowing it wasn't for me. I got a temping job in a town 45 minutes drive from my home inputting data into the Poisons Bureau. It paid the bills and I kept looking for a permanent role in conservation. The company I was working for was expanding and one of the senior managers suggested to the business I should be kept on, I'd got great potential and he thought I'd fit in a new packaging development role they had to support the current packaging person. The same day they offered me this job, my local wildlife trust offered me a permanent unpaid volunteer job. I wanted the conservation job, I asked if they'd at least cover the cost of my fuel to get to their main office which was also a 45 minute drive away and also cover the cost of my fuel to travel to all their reserves across the county. They couldn't do either. It was impossible to get from my home on public transport and certainly not to the reserves so I had to decline. I took the packaging job.

Even then I knew this wasn't the role for me, but soon the golden handcuff's were applied. I needed to replace my car to keep doing the journeys to and from work as it kept breaking down. No one would give me a loan to get a car, but instead they offered me a 100% mortgage. This was the late 1990's - so I purchased a house in the town where I was working and dutifully settled into the job.

I'm one of those people who will always do a job well, even if I don't like it. My other packaging colleague went off on long term sick soon after I joined and found myself running the department and having to recruit a team. I was already unhappy. I had a couple of mini exhaustion breakdowns and constant bouts of ill health. I kept on going. 

I did evening classes and trained in aromatherapy and body massage. My empathic "gifts" came out strong with me spending more time sitting and listening and coaching women, than actually doing massage and aromatherapy. I'd ask simple questions and suddenly they'd tell me everything about their lives, things they'd never told anyone else. When I did treatments I could see and feel a persons emotions and illness. Treating some people it felt like black treacle was ousing out of them and into me. I'd feel drained and exhausted. I found the way people opened up to me scary. It had happened all my life until that point, but I'd known these people, these were random strangers brought in my the college for our classes. I had no idea what to do, I wanted to help people, but this was terrifying.

I qualified in my aromatherapy and body massage, but other than using the aromatherapy for home use and advising others on it, I never did massage again.

Every year I'd get the details of the degree in Herbal Medicine, but my experiences with aromatherapy scared me off, I wanted to train, I've always loved using herbs, but I was scared of the clinical practice and also didn't have the time to spend away from home doing it. 6 Weeks when I only had 4 weeks holiday.

Soon I'd moved onto another company and a new role, I had a company car, a new handcuff, but my ego was taking over. I had my dream car, I got to travel across the UK. But I was still not happy. I kept looking up Herbal Medicine, I kept not pursuing it. I went to the Bach Flower Remedy Centre in Oxfordshire and had a moment of enlightenment. I felt so alive there, but I still didn't do it. 

Soon I was head hunted for a new role, they gave me the money I asked for, the car I asked for. I couldn't believe anyone would pay me that much money. Now to be fair of all the roles, I did enjoy this one. A small company and I enjoyed the camaraderie, I was there a long time, I thought I'd stay, but things changed and unwanted attention from a senior manager made me start looking to move on. 

I found what looked to be my dream job. Environmental and packaging combined. I took a wage drop, I'd not have a company car and I'd have to Iive away from home Monday to Friday. I made the leap. This would bring all my passions together. But alas it wasn't what I thought it would be. I didn't feel like my knowledge was being used. I was employing expensive consultants in and I was overseeing them, yet the time it did to put the project out to bid I could have delivered it. 

I found the job frustrating and demotivating. I'd given up so much for this? My financial situation was a worry, I managed to persuade the company that I'd work from home 2 days a week. I'd travel down early Monday morning, stay with one friend on a Monday night and another friend on a Tuesday night, then drive back late Wednesday evening. 

Then things took a turn. 

My dad was taken ill, so Thursday to Sunday I'd run the farm and keep up to date with my job in-between. Both friends I was staying with had crisis - one taken ill with CFS/ M.E. so I'd try and help out with cleaning, cooking and shopping on that night. The other recovering from cancer, who's mother-in-law had just been murdered, who's children were going through every thing imaginable. I'd be trying to get kids fed, homework done and to bed, whilst their mom was crying in the corner and we were trying to make sure the children didn't see. 

When a head hunter contacted me about a job close to home I said yes, even though it was a company I'd vowed not to work for.

I got the job, I resigned from the job away from home, I fell ill in my notice period.

 I never returned to that old job which made be feel guilty, and ashamed for letting people down.

 I started my new job, I would come home and cry with exhaustion and then one day we did a team day and I almost collapsed. I was sent home. 

I was soon diagnosed with CFS / M.E.. I was put on reduced hours, the company gave me lots of support for about 6 months and then over night turned on me. Making accusations which were unfounded (and later realised the complaints had actually been made about someone else not me). 

I should have left then.

 I remember sitting rocking in my chair at home wishing I could get my old car back (again I had a company car so those hand cuffs were even tighter). I actually did a search on auto trader for it. A red VW Golf 1.9 GT TDI - there was only one for sale, It was my old car - the commentary said "someone must have loved this car". 

I should have seen that as a big ole sign from the universe of buy this car, get out do your own thing. But I didn't. I'd built up debt from the previous job, I didn't think I could get another job. I stuck it out. Fear stopped me leaving.

For the first 18 months of this new job I hated it, I had more run in's with people than in any other job and my confidence deteriorated, but I kept on going. The irony is this ended up being the job I stayed in for the longest. 7 years. I must have read so many blogs, articles, books to help me out of this situation, but I still didn't know what I really wanted to do, I still was scared.

On 2nd December 2016 I quit that job, the night before I'd almost crashed my car twice on the way home with exhaustion. I felt like everything I did was wrong. I gave 6-months notice to get my bonus and some money behind me and I was terrified. People were trying to persuade me to stay, but the offers were never quite right. Then one manager did listen and did persuade me to stay, but he unexpectedly left 2 weeks later and then I knew I had to go. I still didn't know what I was going to do.

For the previous 9 years I'd been writing children books and going to writing events, but I also knew it wasn't a way to make money and my spending addiction to deal with stress had not left me in a situation where I could afford not to earn.

Ironically it wasn't me who figured out what I should do next, but my team. They said I should be a coach. I remember thinking "oh yes" I spoke to a coach the company used and I booked on a course to train as a Myers Briggs Practitioner and as an NLP Practitioner. I booked on a facilitation training course too.

In the last month of my notice period I was approached to do some consultancy on packaging. I wanted to leave the packaging world, but I said yes, it was money, it was an income. 

I'd planned on having 3-months just finding myself, but the Monday after I left I was doing packaging consultancy. I spent the summer attending my training courses. 

Everyone in the industry kept advising me "to do this, to do that". 

I hired a business coach and they said to focus on my packaging not my coaching. I listened to everyone else but not myself and pursued packaging, i did short contracts, I got offered what sounded like perfect assignments, but each one fell through once they made it clear I wasn't to do anything else. Almost a year after leaving my job I had to stop. Illness, no internet - everything contrived to make my world stop and I realised even though I was working for myself I was still doing what everyone else said not what my heart was saying.

I had about 3-4 months of revelations, I launched my Mojo Academy (which I love running so much) and decided to make my packaging work for me and on my terms. Everything was slotting into place and then I fell ill. They say that when you make the leap and you've made it definite, all your unconscious defence mechanisms will kick in to persevere you from harm. And in some cases this will be making you bed bound. And this happened. 

Fear has been the thing that has held me back so many times from following my dreams, now it was striking again in a different way.

I've worked in packaging for 20-years and from year 1 I've looked for a way out, yet fear and guilt have held me back. 

20 years. 

Do I regret it?


Because in those 20-years I have managed teams and coached individuals and I am so proud of each one of those people, to see them grow and develop. Because that's what I truly love doing. I adore helping people to unscramble their minds, to focus on the important, to take the learnings and turn them into opportunities, to support them and guide them in making their dreams come true.

Because all those experiences in the last 20 years have made me who I am, have made me be a better coach, have made me recognise where I can help people going forward. I've made so many amazing friends in this time, I've seen so many amazing places, I met my husband and I've always found the packaging role itself interesting and rewarding, I just hated the politics.

 I know I have been instrumental in reducing and stopping 1,000's of tonnes of packaging being produced and taken 1,000's of trucks off the road. I know when I look back I've probably done more for the environment in 20 years in packaging than I would have working for my local wildlife organisation. 

It's taken me 20-years to make my leap, to move on and now I know that my own experience will only help me to coach others to make their leap in the right timescales for them.

And I'm sure in 1 year, in 5 years, in 10 years - I will have grown and developed more. I know I want to do my Bach Flower remedies and my herbalism. I know I want to have my own lavender farm and distill my own lavender oil. I know I will write that children's book, though I have a self-help book to release first. 

It's Ok for us to take our time, but when we know it's time, it's good to find the best way to make the leap, so we do it to suit us. 

It took 20 years to make my life leap? How long will it take you?

Bright Blessings


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