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break the mould
The first article in the series is a personal essay about how I changed my lifestyle. Sign up here if you want us to alert you when we post more articles.


“I don’t know what I want, but I know it’s not this.” 

The black, emboldened words on the orange spine beckoned me. With the tip of my right index finger, I eased the book out from its space on the shelf and considered the front cover. 

Once more the words were there, against an illuminated background, with a bright red, hand-drawn circle around them.


It is July, 2004. I’m in Morgan Hill, California. It’s hot; blisteringly hot. I’m on vacation. My town-house in London is shut up for 3 weeks. Will the plants out on the back balcony be dead when I return?  Unlikely during an English summer!

It’s high summer in California. 

The light breeze during my bike-ride downtown had kept me cool, but as soon as I stopped, rivulets of saltine liquid poured down my face and found their way into my eyes and mouth. I could feel, but not see, dark blobs appearing on the back of my T-shirt as it soaked up the waterfall cascading down my back.  
The cool sanctuary of the local bookshop and café beckoned. I spotted the title while browsing the bookshop shelves for something to accompany my tall, iced Americano. 

I needed this brief escape to sunshine and languid activities before returning to the UK to endure, full-time, the job I had enjoyed for five years before it started to suck me into the depths, prompting me to take a two year sabbatical from it.

In three weeks time, I would once more take up the reigns as the Open University Business School, London, Regional Manager. I knew I didn’t want to.  I knew it was a worthwhile profession, but …

I had been a lecturer for more than 10 years, had worked around Europe for several years, and had even ventured into sales in Silicon Valley. Seven years ago (a portentous number) I landed this sought-after management role. Five years managing a business school. Five years of responsibility for hundreds of lecturers and thousands of students. Five years of stress, stress, stress, and long, long, long days and weekends. So I took time out for two years and spent it consulting, coaching, teaching English, writing, and marketing.


I skimmed the book, paid for it and the coffee, and stepped out of the shop into the dazzling sunshine. Fortified with caffeine and vaguely reflective, excited even, I realized an important change was impending, one I needed, one I wanted.  I hungered for it like a gourmand on a detox diet of carrot juice and water.  

I cycled up the hills back to my partner's house as if my legs were super-charged with high octane fuel. I quickly stripped, showered, and changed. Then, seated out on the deck, cocooned within blue sky, tree-adorned mountains and a colorful profusion of oleanders, with only the singing of birds to break the stillness, I started reading and doing the exercises in the book. Even the cat, Wyatt, meowing for another dinner (when I arrived back half an hour ago, didn’t I witness him taking three bites to consume a whole mouse?) didn’t detract me while I concentrated on doing the exercises in the book, thinking about the situations that described my current feelings about my job. 

“Bored and plateaued”, the exercises revealed.  Didn’t I know that anyway? 
Which of my key values were being fulfilled at work?  Three out of ten … hmmm. My dominant interests: people and ideas. Only three of my top-ten favorite skills are used in that job.

This mind fodder churned inside my head like waves lapping up onto the beach, leaving some debris as they retreat and then, whoosh, further up the sand again, bringing more bits to lie in their ebbing wake. My mind was full of shells, cockles, pebbles, stones, seaweed, and sand glass, all mashed together in a kaleidoscope, gradually turning to create a complex and beautiful pattern.


“I don’t want to go back to work,” I said to Brian as we sat in the evening sunshine enjoying a bottle of very dry white from the local vineyard, Guglielmos.

In the background, Wyatt was crunching away at his impatiently-awaited dinner; the only other sounds being the greedy Jays waiting for him to move away from his bowl so that they could sneak behind his back and scavenge any remains. He always looks so perplexed when he returns to his bowl and finds it empty, despite having spied the Jays finishing off his leftovers. I never know why the Jays are not his dessert, or even entree.

“Why don’t you come over here?” said Brian.

“I need a visa.  A book I bought today tells me to be a journalist.”  My mind was stuck in a groove, made deeper each time I saw constraints rather than opportunities.

“Come as a student.” 

Brian’s reply seeded a plan to construct a road out of the rut which life sometimes sucks us into, knowingly, unwillingly, comfortably, but boringly.
The decision was made.  Not a lot to it: bike ride; cooling coffee; a chance book; a melee of minutiae rolling together and forming substance; and what my sub-conscious had known for the past two years suddenly revealed to me. 

It was a good day. Making it happen is altogether a different story. But, I knew I wanted this. 



It is July 26, 2007, three years on, as I review this article, which I wrote for one of my journalism classes at San Jose State University. I have finished my MS in Mass Communications and I am now a magazine journalist, writing, editing, and designing. I am using all the knowledge and skills I swallowed up during my time in business and management, as a lecturer, trainer, marketer, manager, and consultant. I have also been a fitness coach, have taught English as a foreign language, and have provided personal and business coaching and development.

I've brought it all here intoWordisWorth and Successzine to give you material to help you live your dreams too.

Alison J. Macmillan

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A lifestyle and self-development article
THIS - a personal essay by Alison J. Macmillan

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