I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives. And Sarah Quirk, another great Shanghai friend find, is one of them. Another ginger (with much less grey hair than me!) she makes me smile every time I see her.
These amazing individuals have inspired me to think beyond ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.
Sarah Quirk – Business Woman & (super) Single Mum
Tell us a little about yourself…
I am a thirty-something businesswoman and single mother, currently living and working in Shanghai with my 8-year old son James.
I was born and raised in Birmingham, England as one of four red-headed siblings. I have a large and colourful family, who I love dearly.
Music was a huge part of my childhood and provides a constant mood-appropriate soundtrack to my life.
In my spare time I love to travel, get lost in a great book, bake, knit and crochet.
I have a weakness for buying shoes (you can never look fat in shoes) and I’m also a huge fan of social gatherings that involve food and wine!
How do you know Nicki?
Nicki and I first got chatting on Christmas Day 2017 when our respective family paths crossed at a Shanghai brunch.
We regularly put the world to rights on the sidelines of the football field and at our newly formed Book Club.
Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?
Right now I am the Talent, Learning & Development Senior Manager at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) China. I have worked for JLR for 14 years and my career has progressed significantly in the time I have been a single parent – one promotion when my son was 2 and another when he was 4 and then the opportunity to work overseas.
This is my second role in China and I have gained so much from working with and leading people from a completely different culture. Overcoming cultural and language barriers means the lessons haven’t always been easy, but my development has been huge and I have really grown in confidence as a result of this experience.
The idea of moving to China first came up in December 2015, when I was asked if I might be interested in considering an overseas assignment. The fact that this would be a great career opportunity was never in doubt, but I also needed to consider the personal impact on both myself and James.
I did my research, talking to people who had lived and worked in China previously, reading as many articles as I could about taking children overseas, looking into what the options would be for school, childcare and where we might live.
I also sought the views of my nearest and dearest…most importantly my older sister and trusted adviser Amelia. We had numerous conversations about the pros and cons of making the move, most notably in the sauna of a spa on a chilly wintery day over Christmas, during which a lovely lady interjected apologetically and encouraged me to go for it!
By the New Year I was sure I wanted to put myself forward and so the whirlwind began…an interview, visit and several discussions later I was offered the role of ‘Senior HR Business Partner, Jaguar Land Rover China’ and on 31st March 2016 James and I left Heathrow with as many of our worldly possessions as we could manage to squeeze into 4 large suitcases.
What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?
The end of my marriage was a huge defining moment in my personal life; everything I dealt with in the aftermath has given me an inner resilience I did not possess before.
I’ve spoken to other people who have been through separations and however they come about, for many people there is a ‘moment’…the moment when you know the right thing has happened and you can be the master of your own destiny going forwards.
Mine came on a very hot summer’s day in June 2012, as I walked along the promenade at New Brighton with my sleeping baby in his pushchair, listening to Ben Howard’s “Only Love”. I remember feeling an immense sense freedom and being genuinely excited about the chance to build a great life for myself and James and make my own decisions about how I did this.
After this initial feeling of liberation and then moving my life back to my hometown, I went through a long period of feeling somewhat lost and unhappy. I was struggling financially, often feeling very alone and like my life was a constant treadmill. I had lost sense of what I was doing it all for and I was craving a change, but I didn’t know how to make one.
A death in the family that hit me unexpectedly hard was a real defining moment during this period and gave me the push I needed to take control back and move forward.
Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?
My wonderful son James. We have been on so many brilliant adventures together, collecting incredible holiday and home memories along the way. His happy face and loving nature have got me through many a difficult moment.
My family who constantly tell me they are proud and my friends who seem to know just when I need reminding that they think I’m amazing.
I also have to mention my company – Jaguar Land Rover – for giving me a great platform to develop and in particular a few great allies (they know who they are), who have constant faith in my ability to rise to new challenges.
How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?
As a new mother I had naively assumed my life would follow a certain course and the idea of being able to work overseas wouldn’t have seemed possible, even if was something I had dreamt about doing.
And yet, here I am, successful business woman and single mother, living in Shanghai with my now 8-year old son.
To say this has been our greatest adventure to date is an understatement. We are now 2 years, 8 months in and I can honestly say I am so glad I took the leap; this would have been far too good an opportunity to miss.
Along my journey, many people have described me as ‘brave’ and I’ve learnt to hear and accept the compliment in this. Coming out to China was definitely a considered move to take on a challenge I felt ready and able to run headlong at.
It hasn’t always been easy, even if the lifestyle and setting make my old life look positively black and white.
I’ve had to deal with living with no furniture, periods of loneliness, struggling to fit in with the ex-pat set and local food threatening to scupper my diet, but 90% of the time I am very happy.
I hope to encourage others to see that balancing a career and being a single parent can be tough, but it is definitely not impossible.
I really hope my experience can inspire others not to let their circumstances hold them back and consider taking a leap of faith when an opportunity comes along.
Turns out it is possible to follow your dreams without being a Disney princess, but if I was one, I would definitely be Ariel!
What’s your current favourite book recommendation?
My sister recommended I read ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and I was not disappointed; this was the first book in a long time I both laughed and cried at and it has proven a tough act to follow.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?
“If it doesn’t open, it wasn’t your door to push”
I try to remind myself of these words whenever I face something challenging or something doesn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, both in my work and personal life.
I’m also a firm believer in short-term pain, long-term gain…often the battle to get where you want to be is more than worthwhile.
What’s next for you on your journey?
The exciting thing is I’m really not sure and this doesn’t scare me at all.