How I’ve lasted 23 years in the hardest job in the world

Recently, I celebrated my 23rd anniversary in my current job. Twenty-three years is a hell of a long time to be working in the same position, and honestly, I’m exhausted.

I work as a parent, which is rumoured to be the hardest job in the world (although I suspect clearing landmines – though similar in many ways – is probably a tad harder).

They say the years fly by when you have kids, but I beg to differ. I feel like I’ve been parenting for 100 years. And it occurred to me recently that being a parent is a lot like having a job in a very busy factory, except that the hours aren’t regulated, there’s no training or supervision, I’m not allowed to quit, and I never get a pay rise. Actually, I don’t get paid at all.

When I first had a baby, I started off on the production line, madly trying to learn the ropes and keep up with the pace. I felt so grateful to have this exciting new job with the cutest little colleagues! On the other hand, I was always tired, always frantic, and always worried I was doing something wrong.

Eventually, my kids got older and I got promoted to line manager. Suddenly I was supervising hyperactive workers who kept losing focus. There were lots of early mornings, a lot of mess, and my staff regularly had tantrums and refused to pick up their tools.

Then my kids became teens and my factory was on fire every other week! I was the floor manager and my feisty workers were forever rebelling against my authority. My job was to put out the fires and teach them right from wrong, but every time I intervened they accused me of micromanaging their lives.

My workers laughed at my uniform, told me I was old and out of touch, and rolled their eyes whenever I spoke. But just when I thought I’d lost control altogether, they’d turn up at my office wanting cuddles and a chat. It was very confusing. My workers were insane! I fantasised regularly about retirement.

The years rolled by (so slowly! ) and when my kids became adults I got long service leave and a gold watch. Jokes! I didn’t receive anything except the intrinsic satisfaction of seeing my staff grow up and do well.

I eventually retired from hands-on factory work, but I’ve been retained in a consultancy role. I am here if my staff need me, but they are managers themselves now and I let them get on with their work. I’ve trained them, I’ve loved them, I’ve given them tools. Now I just have to trust in their skills. Except … it’s not quite that simple.

I cannot stop worrying about my grown-up workers. What if they get injured on the job? Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? Are they teaming up with the right people? Are they eating well? Why do they look pale?

I find myself hovering with a fire extinguisher, even though there are rarely fires these days, and it is no longer my job to put them out.

There are times when I notice my workers messing up, and I agonise over what to do. Do I offer them unsolicited advice, or let them make their own mistakes and learn from them? I should probably choose the latter, but this is difficult to do. When my workers are sad or disappointed, I am sad or disappointed, too.

Occasionally, one of my staff will turn up at my door wanting to stay a while. This is usually just when I’ve settled for the evening and am enjoying peace and quiet. I love having them here, and I miss them when they’re gone, but I also like having a spare room.

I thought being a consultant would be easy, but I’m starting to appreciate the challenges of the role. It is not physically demanding, like working on the production line, but it is very psychologically taxing! I understand now that I will feel responsible for my workers for as long as I live. I can take a step back from the day-to-day work but I can never, ever retire.

Of course, there are wonderful aspects to being a consultant, and I wouldn’t change a thing. My workers are truly fantastic people and I love being in their company. I learn more from them than they learn from me; they certainly teach me a thing or two about how factories are run these days.

When my staff are happy, all is right in my world, and their successes make me glow with pride. Sometimes they even take a piece of my unsolicited advice, which makes me feel like Consultant of the Year.

And every now and then, one of them will pop in for no reason, or call me just to chat about their day. Despite the 23 years of anxiety, and all the tantrums and eye-rolling, those moments make my chosen career blissfully worthwhile.

To read more from Sunday Life magazine, .

Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. every Monday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *