S G Warburg was a ‘sweat shop’. They paid well but they expected blood. I work well under pressure (for a while), so very soon I’d got used to the 5.30am train, the 7.00am start, a liquid lunch (to fit in I’d go drinking wine with the chaps at lunch time in Balls Brothers), then tea and cake at 4.00pm and work until 8.00pm. Dinner and more drinks in London, catch the last train home, collapse into bed up again at 5.00am. I was 18 by then, I weighed 7st (98lbs), this was not good for me. I knew that, my skin was covered in acne, my stomach suffered acid indigestion daily, I had palpitations as my adrenals struggled to keep me going.
I was succeeding though, I’d been promoted quickly and was now my Boss’s personal assistant. He wanted me to study a degree so I was busy studying for my ‘A’ levels at night school as well. Biology and English. As his assistant, I was introduced to high profile directors, Lloyds Underwriters, investors of the bank and many more high powered corporates. I remember going to a luncheon at Lloyds Underwriters. I was the only female, and at least 10 years younger than everyone else. They were all talking about articles written in the Financial Times and the state of the Stock Exchange and where to invest in the coming year. I felt out of my depth and was the subject of what back then was called ‘banter’. In fact now it would have been called sexual harassment and I would have been able to sue. At the time, I joined in, wanting to fit in, using all of my street wise ‘Croydon’ language I could and allowing them to belittle my gender, my race (I’m half Italian) and the reason I had landed my job so young. The implication was that it was because I was pretty, not smart. I became the girl on the 7th Floor (the director’s level) that could hold her own and was accepted by the men.
To do this I had to embrace a part of me I didn’t like, that rude, uncouth South London way of being. I had to allow myself to be belittled. I joined in the sexual innuendo and inappropriate banter even though it made my skin crawl and I numbed the emotional pain with alcohol. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t like myself at all.
Not only was my appearance suffering, I was becoming physically ill. I suffered with throat infection after throat infection, treated it with antibiotics and carried on regardless. This continued for about 2 years. I told myself I was having fun, money, alcohol, work, study, being exposed to The Royal Opera House, The National Theatre, mixing with men in suits, I felt like I’d made it. Especially as I’d managed to buy my first home, a one bedroomed apartment for £40,000 helped along with a mortgage from my employers.
There was no time for anything else, my friends at home fell away, I stopped dancing (a passion since I’d been little), I had failed romance after failed romance, all with guys older than me, who under-pinned the way I was allowing myself to be treated at work. As the butt of many jokes, valued because of my looks, judged because of my sex and European heritage.
Still, I thought I was succeeding. It never crossed my mind once that any of my illnesses, the tears at night and extreme fatigue had anything to do with the way I was living.
The rat race didn’t suit me, it nearly ruined me.
I see many many people everyday running to their jobs, heads down on the train, in the car, striving to succeed and I wonder what would happen if they spent a moment writing down their inner chatter. What would it say to them. If they looked at their recurring illnesses, how their body felt day to day and their energy levels, what would they realise about their lives. Your inner chatter, the health of your body and your vitality are clear indications of the level of success you have. It is not about the outside world, nor about fitting into a mould that is the wrong shape. It is about the quality of your inner life. If it’s not happy, clear and motivated then its time to look at why