THIS IS LIKE ROUND TWO OF MY LIFE
For years Claire Norwood has struggled to find her way in the world, putting her career on hold to have a family. Now in her 50s she’s found a whole new lease of life. Here she reveals what helped her do so.
I’ve never had a game plan. In fact I was pretty clueless when I left school, and got no guidance from my parents. After doing a business degree, I fell into PR. From then on I just did whatever work came along – PR, admin, sub-editing. Then by the time I’d met my husband I had this romantic idea about making shoes, so I used my savings to train as a cobbler.
But although I became quite well known and got my shoes on catwalks and in Vogue and Elle, I made no money at all. My husband had to sub me to help me survive. When our children came along it was a huge relief to not have to keep worrying about how to make a living. Friends had gone to the top in their career by this point, whereas I felt I was always going to be scrabbling around at the bottom. So I kind of bottled out of the whole career world and threw myself into giving my kids the best childhood ever. We moved to the country and for many years I was taken up with motherhood.
Once the boys were in their teens we moved back to London and I hit a wall. I needed to earn money to contribute to the family finances. Meanwhile the boys needed me less and I missed my country friends. I just thought “What am I going to do?’. During that difficult phase I was looking for meaning, and in the end was most inspired to make a big change by my desperation and loneliness. I felt like life was going on without me. I knew I had to break out of my rut and be brave – I couldn’t stay in my small, domesticated world. It was now or never.
“I felt like life was going on without me”
Then in my late 40s I started a training course in property development. There were people on it like me, who started late and were making money and creating a life for themselves. It gave me a real sense of hope and excitement. After the course I ended up working for one of the guys who taught it, and although I was paid next to nothing, it gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself. Here I was, a middle-aged intern, but being allowed to part-run a company – design a website, talk to clients, deal with solicitors, organise refurbishments and design interiors. And I loved it. All I could think was “There IS a life out there for me and I’ve got value” – it gave my self-worth such a boost.
Now I have my own property development company and I love it. Many times over the years I’ve thought I’d found my purpose but this time I really have. Working with a partner in Plymouth we do up properties and sell them on, and my role is all about solving problems and building relationships. I’m really using my background of creativity, my life skills and experience. And being older means I come with automatic credibility when I’m talking to solicitors and potential investors. Because I’ve been around the block and done so many things, people listen to me.
You suddenly feel around 50 that actually you do know quite a lot and have skills a younger person doesn’t have and a way of behaving around people that inspires confidence. Although I’ve never had the big career I’ve got a lot of skills that are coming in really useful now.
What has really helped me to flourish in my new role is being a member of a women’s business club, Sister Snog. For the first time I am associating with people like me and it has made me feel less isolated. Networking with these amazing businesswomen has been a great source of inspiration. Seeing what they’re doing in their careers makes me feel ‘Well I can do that too”, and it’s spurred me on to new levels of bravery. It’s been genuinely transformational.
I feel I have a lot to prove to myself and the world. I think a lot of women struggle with this. They’ve maybe made wrong decisions in the past or been badly advised. For many of us we’ve had to take time out to have children, or had to make decisions because of them that have affected our employability.
“This is like round two of my life, and it’s better than the first by a long stretch”
Another thing that’s really helped in my case is taking antidepressants. Something switched in my brain when I started taking them in my early 50s, and I felt like the person I was always meant to be. I suddenly felt I had confidence and could talk to people. I no longer take them, but doing so helped get me through a difficult time. I’d actually been depressed for a very long time, but had never really acknowledged it.
I’ve come into my own in my 50s. It’s like for the first time I have power. I’ve connected people whose careers have taken a different course because of my introduction. I’ve commissioned people to work for me and paid them. I’m being acknowledged and noticed and respected. This is like round two of my life, and it’s better than the first time by a long stretch.
Words: Marina Gask