I went to the Grayson Perry ‘Who Are You?’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery this week and it could not have come at a better time. A few days before, I’d suffered a wobble and began questioning my choices, mainly that of leaving behind a 24-7 full-on career to spend more time with my family.
The rhythm of office life is pretty ubiquitous the world over and I for one danced to to the beat of the corporate drum quite happily for almost 20 years. Those years were spent in meetings, writing proposals, setting goals, lunching, managing budgets and being answerable to people more senior than I. Now it’s gone and I think I’m having what I can only described as a corporate come-down.
The familiarity of photocopiers, post rooms, stationary cupboards, security tags, tea rounds and IT help desks made for a comfortable, structured daily existence amongst the stresses of the actual work, not to mention the welcome receipt of a regular pay cheque.
My son is great company, but on the odd days he’s having a two year old’s episode, I can’t help but think, “I don’t have to be doing this, I could be at work, at least I know who I am there.” At work there is a code of conduct, at home, I’m winging it all day long.
Grayson Perry spoke to me. His self-portait entitled ‘A Map of Days’ hooked me in and hasn’t let me go. Perry describes the sense of ‘self’ as “a forming and reforming of one’s identity…a lifelong shifting performance.” I found the fluidity, the honesty and ordinariness of Perry’s references reassuring and profoundly relaxing. I felt as if I’d met a soul mate that day. ‘Map of Days’ depicts the internal and external struggles he faces day to day that are wrapped up in his past, present and future. In parts it looks like he’s wrangling, almost wrestling with his own self and in other parts, he has conviction and confidence.
I’ve always been fascinated with identity which is undoubtedly a by-product of being born into a first generation Chinese immigrant family, brought up in Wales and educated at one the country’s most exclusive public schools. My hard-working, confident, socially mobile self didn’t do too badly in life but rightly or wrongly, my job was the key driver to my happiness.
For many years my sense of self has been built on climbing a rigid corporate ladder but since becoming a mother my disciplined path to ‘success’ has had its far share of diversions. The A&E scares, the sleeplessness, the childcare costs, it’s a great leveller. Best laid plans often don’t amount to much and the chores get so out of control that it’s laughable but we’re a happy family so it’s good enough.
The come-down was inevitable, I’ve been institutionalised for two decades. This is Lynn Li Version 2.0 . I am in no way less driven, if anything, I have become more so but with a different set of measures, validation is not one of them.
Reinvention is lifelong and can be turbulent. You can’t escape it so you may as well drink it up for all it’s worth. I’ve given myself the opportunity to redefine who I am. Lucky me.
Thanks Grayson, you’re a diamond geezer.