When I was a student teacher I ended the relationship with my boyfriend of 18 months. He wrote to me in a letter ‘I wish I had your sense of purpose, but I guess I will always be a loner’. His words about having a sense of purpose to life have stayed with me. When I look back at my 37-year career I can see that a sense of purpose and a good work-life balance can go hand-in-hand, but need a healthy working environment. At that time my boyfriend and I could only meet at weekends and holiday times and I remember he would sit and watch on a Sunday as I prepared my lessons for the coming week when on teaching practice. He was unable to take part, and could not understand what motivated me. I loved what I was doing and did not mind the weekend and evening working. He had acquired a pass degree in a subject he wasn’t passionate about and, even in a time of full employment, had not been able to find a career path. Later, he worked night shifts on the production line in a car factory, and lived with his parents. The choice of careers for women was more limited at that time, and I took a traditional route by wanting to teach young children. But even then, I could only consider studying or working at something I enjoyed. I had so much to learn, and college and university widened my horizons. It is said that women’s education is key to social change, lifting families out of poverty and providing income as well as limiting early marriage and family size. My thoughts of marriage and children took a backseat when I found the rewards of learning and satisfying employment. The competence of managers can make or break an employee. How managers set examples of work/life boundaries is worthy of comment. I had never minded putting in whatever time it took to do my job to high standards, and was not a clock watcher. When I was teaching in schools there were colleagues who arrived at 8.50am and left at 3.05pm, but I didn’t have family commitments and was happy to stay and display children’s work or create new learning resources. Several of my jobs were at universities, where there were no fixed hours and plenty of varied and interesting work to do. I therefore blurred work/home boundaries quite willingly, staying late at the office or taking work home. No fixed hours of work also meant that managers could not insist on anyone starting work at a set time, and I liked being trusted to be evaluated on the quality of my output rather than when I arrived at work each morning. Of course, flexible systems can be used and abused, with some giving minimum effort and others overloaded, so good management is important. I was fortunate to have either good managers or flexible terms and conditions during the time my daughter was young. Although I still worked long hours, I could do some of the work from home which made life easier. When I left university work for the charity sector, I was on local government terms and conditions and for the first time encountered fixed hours, overtime, time off in lieu and time sheets. My very good manager made it clear that she had very strong work/life boundaries, but she was able to do her job well without excessive long hours. She didn’t judge people who worked differently, encouraged time off in lieu, and supported staff trying to manage their workloads, including employing extra help if necessary. I later joined another charity where double standards existed, and my manager deliberately kept practices blurred to maintain control over employees. The terms and conditions were clear but were disregarded, and a culture of bullying meant that poor management practice was not challenged. This made for an uneasy work environment, where the atmosphere visibly changed when he was in the office, and people felt scrutinised and on edge. This was still rewarding work, but in an unhappy workplace, and my work-life balance became unhealthy. The organisation was resistant to change, so it was time to move on. Having a sense of purpose in life kept me going during low times, and has meant that I didn’t mind putting in the extra hours throughout my career. While it wasn’t shared by my boyfriend when I was 20, I often think of his words and know that having a purpose meant that I could challenge myself and move beyond what was expected of a woman from my background. My husband shares this sense of purpose in work and other life, and together we seem to have passed this on to our daughter, who has embraced life and chosen a demanding career, but one that gives her deep satisfaction.