I’m a traditionalist at heart. Despite showing the outward trappings of a relatively successful life, I singularly lack ambition. I have no desire to even walk around a corporate ladder, let alone put my foot on the first rung. I care little for titles, prestige, or professional kudos. I’m good at what I do and like doing it. That’s enough.
I’m fortunate to have what Charles Handy calls a ‘portfolio career’ – I do a little of this, a smidgen of that, and it all adds up to enough to pay the bills and keep the bankers at bay. And it pays enough for me to be able to do half of what I do for free. That I feel good about. That’s important. Most of what I do, I can do from anywhere that has an Internet connection – the freedom to come and go could never be measured in monetary terms.
I don’t have a career trajectory. I don’t have lofty ambitions. There is nothing (other than perhaps being able to buy a book I’ve written in an airport bookshop) that I long for professionally. I could give it all up tomorrow and spend the rest of my life darning socks, cooking dinners, and keeping house (as long as I still get to do what I want to do when I want to do it, of course).
Part of the traditional woman in me has baulked at the idea of ‘getting help around the house’ (or flat, in my case). Every time I come back from a trip to be greeted by dust balls creeping up the hallway, I could cry. When I can’t see my reflection in the bathroom taps, I want to weep. And not having time to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor makes me positively unhappy.
Therapists no doubt would tell me that I have a ‘superwoman’ thing going on – I want to be able to do it all. I’m my own harshest critic and it’s only in recent years that I’ve gotten any way comfortable with asking for help when I need it. That need to be self-sufficient runs through me in parallel with my independent streak but thankfully, I finally have both firmly in check.
For nearly 12 months now I’ve been thinking about paying someone to come clean my flat. But each time I went about organising it, I thought again. I wondered what it said about me. It seemed to scream of failure at some basic, traditional level. I mean, it’s not like I’m a jet-setting executive, a harried mother of three … or a man. I’m a traditional woman, with old-fashioned aspirations, who should surely be able to keep her own place in order.
The only time my flat gets cleaned is when I’m expecting company. I wander from my office to my kitchen wearing my computer glasses and so don’t see the mess. And when, suitably bespectacled, I do notice it, I’m usually too knackered to care. This week I gave in. I sat myself down and rationally explained to myself that I simply do not have the time to do what needs to be done. I told myself how much better I’d feel if I had one less thing to occupy my time. And I reminded myself that I have a dissertation due in seven weeks, the body of which has still to be written. I picked up the phone.
E came highly recommended. At least three lads I know are very happy with her and trust her implicitly. So I called. She came around to meet me and my flat. She liked what she saw (or relished the challenge, I’m not sure which) and she started this week. For six hours E scrubbed, cleaned, and polished (I’ll miss those three footprints on the windowsill) – and to her horror, she didn’t make it as far as the kitchen. So more of the same is in store next week, and then, once the first deep-cleaning treatment is over, we go onto a weekly maintenance programme, with periodic projects planned for the remainder of the year (I can’t remember the last time I had reason to look behind a radiator or up at my lights or at my ceiling pipes).
Seeing my sinks literally sparkle, seeing the sun hop off the shining wood floors, seeing my pictures clearly for the first time in months – all this is helping me come to terms with my failure. This week, as yet another self-delusion has been shattered (I can’t believe I’m not superwoman), I am grateful that I gave in. Perhaps my new environment will be more conducive to writing of all sorts, and I might still get to buy that book.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52