"Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to" (The Smiths, 1986)
When I was growing up I really didn't know what I wanted to be. I was good at sport, netball in particular (my school team got to the National Finals twice and I played to county standard for Warwickshire). I was also not too bad at languages (German & French). My only ideas were that I should be a PE teacher, or I quite fancied being a tour guide for coach trips around Europe. My problem was that I was painfully shy and quiet, and unaware that I was intelligent enough to pursue these dreams.
Not expecting me to pass any O Levels or CSEs (based on school reports), my dad wanted me to leave school at 16 and follow in his footsteps by finding a job in a bank. At interviews, I barely said a word, and not surprisingly I wasn't hired. However, it all changed when I received my O Level results, which I passed with flying colours, and I was swifty signed up for the Sixth Form.
Career-wise, the crunch time eventually came when everyone in the upper Sixth had to find a work experience placement. I still suffered terribly with shyness and a low self esteem, so my favoured options of teaching sport or using my foreign language skills seemed completely out of reach. I asked to work in the local public library, based on the very outdated stereotype that librarians are quiet (and we all know how daft that perception is!) and I liked reading. It went okay, but I have a vivid memory of the Branch Manager taking me to on side and advising me that maybe a career in librarianship wasn't for me.
Back at the Sixth Form, I still wasn't expected to pass any exams that summer. After sitting the exams, and leaving thoroughly depressed, I started a very low paid office job in a local hosiery (my skilled sister worked as a sewing machinist and was much better paid), and I fully expected my career to follow this path. But again, when the A Level results arrived, I passed all my exams with flying colours, and my Sixth Form tutor persuaded me to go through clearing for a university place. Her idea was that because I performed particularly well in English Literature, and because of my public library experience, she would try and get me on to a library science degree. My options were Aberystwyth (too difficult to get to), Queen's University Belfast (too dangerous... her words, not mine (it was the 1980s)) or Loughborough (perfect). Before I knew it, my dad was taking me on the short trip up the M1 in his old banger to start my studies in 'Library & Information Science (with English Literature and German)' and a new life. Ironically, I was at the university where I probably would have gone if I had pursued my intention to be a PE teacher.
I emerged clutching a BA (Hons) degree 3 years later and a different person. I was a bit more confident and chatty, and almost ready to take on the world! I fell into school librarianship by accident. I had applied at various types of libraries, but a secondary school was the first to offer me a job. I spent the next decade working in a variety of schools (both state and independent) in different parts of the country. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, albeit still a bit hindered by my lack of confidence.
New Year's Eve 1999. I reached a point where I became restless and felt that I need to do something with my life. A few months later, I chanced upon a BBC documentary called "Guns and Roses" about female officer cadets at The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. I was transfixed! The sport & travel side of me re-emerged and, because I was too old to be a regular officer cadet, I enlisted with my local Territorial Army unit. After basic training I gained some qualifications in radio communications, and then embarked on an exciting and challenging TA career (plus a lengthy career break) which took me all over the world - to the vast plains of Alberta, the heights of the Canadian Rockies and Alaska, the intense heat of the Iraqi desert and Kuwait, the ski slopes of Austria and Canada, battlefield tours in France and Holland, and various army units and training areas in the UK, Gibraltar... and Germany (I could 'sprechen Deutsch' at last!).
I eventually returned to librarianship older and wiser, with my wanderlust abated, and not scared of anything. I felt, and still feel, completely robust and ready to tackle any challenge. I decided to start a new career in higher education, and I am now the business librarian for one of the new universities in Wales (it's close to the mountains if I need an adrenalin rush).
Looking back, I feel that I have now found my true calling, but the experiences I have had along the way have made me a much better librarian. My old Branch Librarian was right in my case, it's tough to be a librarian if you are quiet and shy.