I have had a lifetime ‘portfolio career’, working in a multiplicity of unrelated jobs and professions. From assistant secretary in a graphic design studio, to research executive for a marketing company, then cook, specialist tour operator, translator and court interpreter, and, finally, university lecturer in Texas, teaching Renaissance Italian literature and Italian language, I have worn quite a few different hats.
So far, so good, and when I retired at 63 I threw myself into looking for an interesting and fulfilling outlet for my energies. As I wanted to be feeling valued again.
Over the next five years I explored several volunteer roles – in prisons, teaching adult literacy courses, teaching Italian evening classes, mediation/conflict resolution and so on. I was CRB checked no fewer than three times (at least the CRB checkers profited).
The attempt at prison volunteering fell flat: I wanted to befriend a prisoner, to teach, to help with letter writing, to interpret from French, Spanish or Italian (the local prison caters mainly for foreigners and many do not speak English), to help in some way, but HMP at Canterbury had me stuffing envelopes alongside teenage students who needed to tick this box as part of their course. This didn't leave me feeling valued again.
Nobody had anything more demanding for me to do, and I eventually gave up in disgust (one official did say later that the prison service is notoriously bad at using volunteer labour. Correct).
As for teaching adult literacy classes (unpaid), I was not allowed to teach anybody anything in spite of having worked for 5 years as a university lecturer (and presumably knowing how to read) because I do not have a UK teaching qualification. The mediation training was excellent but my residence was found to be outside the catchment area of the course (why didn’t they tell me that when I joined?), so no cases came my way.
I was exactly 3 months too old to become a magistrate at the time of application. I grew increasingly frustrated and discouraged, thinking not only of myself, but of all the thousands of qualified, energetic people who are ‘thrown out’ every year as they retire from full time employment. We all just want to be feeling valued again.
Well perseverance pays off at last.Things have finally improved, In the village where we live, we have a local History Society, a University Italian society and a thriving branch of NADFAS, and after sitting through a number of talks, it slowly dawned: I could do that!
So I learned how to put together a good PowerPoint presentation, looked at other speakers’ offerings to spot gaps in subject matter and so on – and delivered a talk at our local History group, then at nearby Wye history society and then at our NADFAS group when the booked speaker didn't turn up. It was wonderful to be feeling valued again.
I have recently been accepted as a NADFAS (national association of decorative and fine arts societies) lecturer and in February gave my introductory talk (all of 2 minutes, timed by stopwatch!) in front of 1,000+ people in London
At the moment I offer about twelve one hour talks on Imperial Russia, Georgian England and also Italy. As well as NADFAS, I lecture to History Societies, University associations, the English Speaking Union, on cruises and so on. Anyone who will listen, basically.
My husband Stephen met a lady at a conference who told him about cruise-ship lecturing. She is a great enthusiast and gives talks on ‘How I Made My Own Luck and became a Conceptual Artist’. Why not give it a try?
Well, cruise ship lecturing is not like teaching. If a member of the audience finds your talk boring, they will just walk out – but they may have a hairdressing appointment.
Most cruises treat you as a Guest Speaker, but one well-known company pays you well…and treats you as crew (eat below decks, crew cabin, etc). In other words, it is not all jam: you are expected to give only 4 or 5 talks in a twelve to fourteen day cruise, but your real job is ‘social secretary’.
And the accompanying partner, too (known as the ‘trailing spouse’), is expected to be affable and conversational 100% of the time when outside the cabin.
Fortunately, my husband happens to love the idea of a job where he just props up the bar and chats to people! I phoned the agency who handles speakers for most UK cruise lines to find out more. Yes, they were very interested in a possible speaker on Russian subjects.
The agency has 1500 speakers on its books (!) and holds auditions once a week. Would I come to the next one, please, with a prepared 45 minute talk?
The audition was in the company’s office, a converted barn well off any beaten track. Five potential speakers were being tried out that day, speaking on subjects from mountaineering to the lives of US Presidents’ wives to (me) Russian social history.
My name was called first, and after some initial fiddling with a recalcitrant computer, the talk went well. The Director liked it, laughed at the jokes and found it relevant…and I have now undertaken three cruises. Wow! It is wonderful to begin feeling valued again.
My new challenges are rewarding in every way, and I really love doing the research and compiling the powerpoint lectures: you never stop learning! I have also made many, many new friends and contacts through lecturing and feel life is opening up all over again....in my (very) late sixties. Keep at it, girls, learning is living, and you cannot have too many friends, either. Next step: get a website!
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