Last month, I turned 40. I left school at 16, with 9 GCSEs. In my final year of school we moved house to a different town, 45 minutes away. Rather than changing school at such a critical stage, I’d travel back and forth daily – but it wasn’t something I could do for much longer. For that reason alone, I decided to leave rather than continue on to A-Levels.
I’ve spent almost 25 years in the same line of work, to varying degrees. For most of that time, I’ve been stuck behind a desk staring at a computer.
Growing up during the ’80s, being a programmer wasn’t seen as ‘cool’ as it is today. It was however considered to be the future. Back then, people weren’t specific – ‘working with computers’ was enough. I’ve been in the industry throughout probably the most critical and influential time we’re ever likely to know. The ‘Internet’ wasn’t an accessible thing back then, and the World Wide Web was yet to be conceived.
When I started my first company at 18, we had a really hard job convincing companies they needed a website. Companies viewed the internet as a ‘fad’, or something marketing budgets were wasted on. How times change.
I don’t regret having chosen the career I did. For the most part, it’s served me well and I’ve had some amazing success as a result (with plenty of failures along the way!).
Too much screen time is bad for you
But, so much time stuck behind a screen has taken its toll. In recent years I’ve felt less enthusiastic about my work, and my own mental health has suffered. A few years ago, in an effort to get away from the desk more often, I took on an allotment. While I’d never considered myself ‘green fingered’, I discovered that I really enjoyed the time outdoors and it helped me recharge a great deal. The fresh air, more relaxed environment helped my mental health more than I could explain.
Following a diagnosis of Diabetes, I also began exploring foods and their nutritional values more – and growing things that suited my new diet better, including many things you can’t typically buy in the supermarket. I found that I not only enjoyed the process of discovery and growth, but also the research and exploration. I was becoming a student, without actually being a student.
Leap of Faith
Last year, I took a leap and signed up on a course for the RHS Level 2 in Horticulture. I did this partly to structure learning for my own benefit, but also because horticulture (or Botany, more specifically) is a direction I’d like to go.
A few months ago, I took a further leap and signed up with the Open University. I chose an ‘Open’ degree, which allows me to ‘pick and choose’ the modules that interest me most, rather than a pre-defined route. The type of degree awarded depends on the number of credits gained in different areas – for me, it will be a BSc (Bachelor of Science). I’m studying a mix of health and natural sciences, which perfectly ties in with my interests.
When I’ve completed the degree, I’ll most likely be closer to 50 than 40, so whether it leads to a new career is another matter. With that said, as I grow older regular horticultural positions are unlikely to be sustainable anyway. Rheumatoid Arthritis and general ageing make days on end of digging unlikely! For that reason, realistically I need to focus on the science of Botany instead – age and physical ability is far less of a barrier.
If nothing else, it’s a process I expect I’ll enjoy immensely.