Secretary, Nurse or Teacher

My mother joined the workforce in the 1960s.  She left school at 16 and took a secretarial course.  She then worked as a secretary.  That didn’t last long as she went to London to retrain as a nurse.  Those were the choices available for her: secretary, nurse or teacher.

As a nurse she worked in the UK before getting a steamer ticket to New York.  She then travelled and worked in the USA then headed north to Canada and Vancouver.  She met my father in Vancouver.  They married three months later.  I was born two years after that.

My mother continued to fulfil the aspirations of the time.  She stayed at home to look after the children.  My father went out to work.  Mum would cook fancy dinners that she hoped would help impress my father’s work colleagues or his clients.

We moved from Canada in the late 1970s.  My brother and I grew up.  Mainly for economic reasons, my mother returned to the workforce in 1984. Not as a nurse but as a recruiter running a nursing agency that placed temporary nursing staff in NHS hospitals, care homes and privately.  The organisation had offices in most towns and cities across the UK.  Largely staffed by women.  The men ran the head-office; setting the targets.

To my knowledge she was given little to no training.  When she started out in the job her co-worker spent most of the 9-5 knitting and waiting for the phone to ring.  I know this because, after school we had to wait for mum to finish work before we could go home.

My mother couldn’t stand it.  She started calling the hospitals.  Building relationships.  Getting to know the area and where the demand might be.  She talked to anyone or everyone and at any location: church, family events, work events, my dad’s work events. Over the course of the first two years she built the business.  She had no vision, no MBA, no plan.  She took one foot and placed it in front of the other.  If something worked, she’d do it again.  If it didn’t she stopped.

She took that branch, in Bedford, to become the 4th most successful branch in the UK.  She won recognition and prizes.  The phone never stopped ringing in the office or at home.

She taught herself how to read a P&L, run a sales campaign, lead a team, build relationships with 1000s of nurses and build relationships with 100s of clients to grow the business year after year.  She probably could have achieved more with training, with a degree. I’m sure a lot of it wasn’t easy.

She achieved much, much more than the options she was given when she was 16.   She taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to.  She taught me, in effect, to put one foot in front of the other.  And I have.

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