Invest in the life you want to live
This happens to be the strap line for A J Bell’s current ad campaign – but it is also a sentiment I believe in strongly. Although I didn’t plan it that way, I realise on reflection that it also provided the theme for the talk I recently gave at AJ Bell’s Luminary 2018 event and which triggered the suggestion from Tamsin Caine, Head of Financial Planning at Smart Financial, that I write this guest blog.
I mentioned in that talk that at a key career moment for me, when I happened also to be pregnant with my fourth child, my relationship broke down and I found myself an involuntary single parent. I was a solicitor at the time in the City of London and was just coming up for consideration for partnership. I had been working extremely hard for seven years, taking minimal maternity leave (as ambitious women in the City in the 80s and 90s had to if they hoped to progress) and my shot at partnership was very unlikely to come round again if I withdrew. But the job involved extremely long hours, travel and of course pressure. To add to the mix, we had recently bought a semi-derelict doer-upper with a huge mortgage. The mortgage and the childcare costs were eye-watering even with two salaries.
I had not seen the relationship breakdown coming. It was, of course, an awful time in many ways, but I found that the crisis created great clarity in my thinking. I decided almost in the instant that he left that I would plough on regardless, go forward for partnership and invest in the life I wanted, for me and my children, whatever the costs. I called one of the partners in the firm that same weekend, told him what had happened and told him my decision. He and the firm were magnificently unfazed and I went on to become a partner in May 1994, a couple of days before my baby was born.
The next few years were hard at times of course but it was absolutely the right call. It can be very tough at a time of emotional and financial upheaval to think about pushing forward with your career – it might even seem selfish in circumstances where you are very focused on the effects on your children. But planning for your – and their – long-term financial security is one of the most positive and responsible things you can do in fact. Investing time, energy and money, even when money is tight, in yourself in order to advance that future security is the right thing to do I believe.
Laura Carstensen is a former partner in Slaughter and May. Since leaving the firm she has held numerous board level roles in the public and private sector including currently being a non-executive director of AJ Bell.