Two years ago, I was a recent environmental politics graduate who had just landed my dream job as a Project Manager in Iceland and, I was expecting my first child. Everything should have been perfect. Little did I know, this would lead me into a whirlpool of rediscovery which would result in me restarting my life as a journalist in Ireland.
As a bright-eyed graduate, living in one of the most gender equal countries in the world, I wasn’t expecting the level of sexism I found in the workplace. At one point, my boss, sat me down to explain that there was competition in the world, which would be hard for me to understand as a woman. I was always a career woman, I had thought I would take the normal maternity leave and return to work. When I had my son, I found another person within myself who wanted to do things differently than the previous me. Sitting in an office attempting to fight Arctic environmental degradation in a patriarchal world suddenly seemed less appealing. As I stared out my windows, looking at the snowy mountains, I found that I was feeling far too much like that Fleetwood Mac song, Landslide, and something had to change.
I quit my job and became a full-time mother. A recent Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development report found that 87% of Icelandic mothers work away from home, and I felt immense pressure to join the working women club. Feminism? To me it didn’t feel like feminism, it felt like I was being pressured to give up a job I enjoyed and was good at (being a mother).
The reflection of myself in the puddle of societal norms became distorted. I had to deal with criticism from my family as to why I had abandoned my career, criticism from other mothers for not sending my child to play school at nine months, and society as to why I wasn’t fitting in, in general.
The winters in North Iceland are harsh. The sun barely rose above the mountains for the four hours of daylight we received in the depths of winter. The tiny town of 200 people we lived in became my world. This magnified the soul searching within myself.
I am not alone in undertaking a reinvention during my lifetime. Samuel L Jackson completed a degree in marine biology before becoming an actor and JK Rowling overcame clinical depression before writing the Harry Potter books. But those discontented can be seen all around us. The bored office worker, divorcees, unemployed, can be seen at almost every turn. But what’s to be done in such a competitive world? Should we be afraid of changing?
Like in other countries around the world including America and the UK, the voice of the xenophobic right wing got louder in Iceland, and we decided it was time to escape the island. We agreed upon a move to the Emerald Isle where my partner grew up. I had already started again once in Iceland so I was surprised to find I would not be exempt from the difficulties of immigration. Workwise alone, a specialism in Arctic policy, wasn’t going to get my very far. Even so, I was happy to be here, the social nature of Irish people was a pleasant change from the closed Nordic attitude and, not having to slip about on ice all winter, came as a welcome relief. I didn’t mind the rain one bit.
In regards to my chosen career of motherhood, I was surprised to find that other mothers in Ireland, who were taking an extended career break, were on average older than me. A report commissioned by the Government of Ireland, found that 60% percent of women return to work by nine months, and those that do not, are more likely to be aged 35 or older. It seemed like the path I had chosen did not lead me to fit in here either. I was beginning to feel isolated again.
But there was a difference inside myself. Now, I knew who I was. I could see myself in the reflection of society, even though I was different. I found I didn’t need to change to fit in, just to realise who I was, use the strengths I have and, follow my instinct. Being a degree holding mother below 30 may not be the statistical average.
And, for many people it may not be feminist to quit my job to look after my child, but for me, feminism is having the strength to follow my path. I’m now pursuing a career in freelance journalism.
Are you living the life you are designed to? Don’t let society get you down.
Michaela Coote has an MA in environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland. Currently she is a freelance journalist and mother. Originally from the UK, Michaela has lived all around the world including in New Zealand.
Image courtesy of freestocks.org.