A post by Rachel Cotterill made me think back to a favourite theme of mine this week. Rachel has a series of goals that are seemingly at odds with many of our peers’ values. Rachel wants to achieve such things as installing a wood burning stove and learning embroidery. I was asked by a senior co-worker recently why I had elected to work at a museum in Gloucestershire when I had previously lived in Kuala Lumpur and could have pursued any number of different careers. I had my answer ready immediately since my current lifestyle involved a very active decision but despite it being a decision I don’t regret and firmly believe will carve out the happiest path through life for me, it sounded a bit trite. What I wanted, I said, was not just a high quality a life but an excess of quality in my life with the time, energy and inclination to bake muffins for my boyfriend and his kids for breakfast at the weekends.

Many of my goals are not dissimilar to Rachel’s and my motivation stems from the inclusive whole. So while I have my ambitions, I am only ambitious within the parameters I gave my co-worker. What I want to achieve must be achieved within certain limitations. This isn’t to say I don’t go the extra mile, this week there was a film premier at the museum. Six medical museums across the UK participated in the Medicine at the Movies project which saw different groups of people introduced to film making; as the eradication of smallpox was a global issue the Edward Jenner Museum worked with refugee and asylum seeker groups. When our artist in residence, Fiona Meadley made some noisy musings about how nice it’d be to have some interesting catering, perhaps along a Middle Eastern theme, I (of tenuous, Masterchef semi-finals, fame) was happy to step up. I did my research and food ordering from the office but a day working from home was never going to cut it and so a couple of late evenings were thrown in order to pull together what was a very warmly received buffet. 

I was willing to give up my time and energy because the project inspired me. One day last week I realised one of our volunteers was watching my computer screen out of the corner of her eye. After a few minutes I asked her what she thought the relevance of pomegranate molasses was to my job. She had no idea and I quickly filled her in but there in a nutshell was why I believe I’m in the right kind of industry. I was shopping for ethnic foodstuffs, I got a paid for parcel of exotic foodstuffs and I got to spend time playing with exciting new foodstuffs... and they not only paid me to do it but were so pleased that they bought me a gorgeous plant and gave me a thank you mention after the films.

So what inspires me? Well, like Rachel, it is new skills and experiences. During my time in Malaysia I had some Persian friends that introduced me to Middle Eastern cuisine. I got hooked on cardamom and developed an obsession with flatbread. Catering for the film premier gave me the opportunity to really research some of the flavours and influences of those memories. In giving up my time and resources, I received benefit in kind of being able to pursue a culinary theme I hadn’t yet had opportunity to. Yes I’m glad my boss is happy and I liked the compliments and am just chuffed to bits about the plant but I did it for the experience.

I attribute this attitude for my general happiness (as in happiness with a capital H; the stuff of philosophy and £7.99 impulse book buys from WH Smith’s when your train is delayed). As I’ve admitted before, I’m as susceptible to validation whorery as the next girl but I’m not motivated by validation. I get indescribable joy from my boss being happy but her happiness is not my goal. Likewise I like money. Of course I like money. Anyone who doesn’t like money is, quite frankly, weird. I write this column from my (rather richer) boyfriend’s flat that overlooks the Gloucester Docks on a now rather battered (but once shiny laptop) while sipping on a glass of Minervois. These things cost money. But money isn’t enough, if it was I’d have taken my 2.1 from Durham University and joined PWC or one of the other recruiters. I want a certain something else.

It’s something I like about Edward Jenner. In his lifetime, Jenner wasn’t noted for his work on the smallpox vaccine. Rather it was his research on cuckoos that saw him admitted to the Royal Society. He was also a keen flautist. Oh and he wrote poetry. And in 1819 he dug up a Plesiosaur. Did I mention he was into hot air balloons? Jenner was unquestionably a Renaissance man, or perhaps more pretentiously, a polymath. Jenner had, and I cite Wikipedia, a ‘superior intelligence, whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.’ I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a polymath but there is definitely an aspiration towards Renaissance womanhood.

Whether my field ends up as marketing or academia or a combination of the two (or something else entirely) I never want that to be my everything and I hope to take as much pride in the things that don’t bring me success as those that do. The importance is to explore all avenues of inspiration. Ideally, a path of exploration and creativity will sit happily within a career and not vie for attention but my instincts tell me that really, it is a choice. And so I choose the path of the Renaissance woman and will work hard on my cooking, my photography and my writing and let the details of how it all comes together reveal themselves to me.
3/19/2010 07:33:00 pm

I love your motivation. And I'll have to visit your museum one of these days!

3/20/2010 04:30:12 am

As it happens I'm hoping to run a writers workshop at the museum. I'll let you know when we set a date if you'd be interested.

3/20/2010 06:34:27 am

Definitely let me know about that :) Also - I could come with my camera and blog about it (assuming I might need your help to be allowed to take photos!)

3/22/2010 06:01:45 pm

The museum would essentially view you as a reporter in that context. We'd simply ask you to include a working link to the website and accurate contact details.

We already have an artist in residence and are keen to built a creative community. Participation and communication from players such as yourself is key to building those relationships.


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