From Poet to Swan? An International Women’s Day Life Story

It’s International Women’s Day, they said.  Write a blog about a woman who inspired your legal career, they said.

I scratched my head.

My route into law was roundabout.  I’d heard of Helena Kennedy QC and Baroness Hale, yes.  But they seemed to my younger self to be remote, elite members of the establishment.

Not convinced that Mum was right when she said I’d make a good lawyer (“well, you DO seem to love arguing….”), I studied creative writing at Uni, where my influences were Margaret Atwood and Carol Ann Duffy, not judges or advocates. Performance poetry was daunting enough, the idea of holding forth as a barrister terrified me.

My first job….

My first ‘proper’ job was in the construction industry, where the gender divide came as a sudden shock.  As a member of the administrative team, I had to cover tea and coffee making duties on a rota that excluded my male counterparts.

Several of my (male) colleagues had pornographic wall calendars on full view in our open plan office.

I took them down and hid them after hours.

I went on site visits where I wasn’t the only woman in the team, I was the only woman as far as the eye could see.

When I eventually decided on a career in law, it felt like the perfect fit.  I could combine my interest in the built environment and the satisfaction of completing tangible projects with my love of writing and administration (not to mention my nitpicking attention to detail and, yes, the arguing).

Famous women who influenced me…

However, the famous women who influenced my early years were very different.

Dedicated to my ballet lessons between the ages of 3 and 14, I dreamed of fame as a prima ballerina. My heroines were Margot Fonteyn, Anna Pavlova, and an exciting newcomer: Darcey Bussell.

I read, re-read and practically swallowed whole a biographical novel of Anna Pavlova’s life.  Here was a beautiful star who was so passionately dedicated to her art she would dance through pain, blood, sweat and tears, persevering against the odds in her determination to succeed.

She never underestimated the importance of hard work above talent.  She learned not to confuse professional success with happiness.

Hard work pays off!

Being raised with a great sense of duty, I identified with Anna’s sentiment that she must use and share her talent.  She is quoted as saying: “Dancing is my gift and my life. God gave me this gift to bring delight to others.”

Her training and career were not orthodox and many roles were created or reinvented for her own distinct style. I loved this idea of her being a pioneer, determined to carve her own way.  She captured a perfect blend of vitality, grace and dedication.  She would become totally immersed in the moment – what we might now call ‘being in the zone’, or even mindfulness – a level of human focus which modern multitasking and digital working methods have eroded.

Like many teens, I accepted that I was never going to be a professional dancer and was happy to move on to other goals.  But the skills needed to attain those goals stayed with me.  Dedication, perseverance, commitment and passion: these are relevant and relatable to all careers.

And, having had the pleasure this week of working with the owner of Caroline Green’s School of Dance, I’m told that recreational ballet for oldies is where it’s at.  So, in years to come, you might yet find me attempting to be a Silver Swan


Nikola Guthrie
March 2019

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