31. December 2023

2023’s lesson: to move on, go back to where it all began

UCL student halls in Bloomsbury London

I closed a big chapter of my life this year


I have not been here for over 20 years. It doesn’t seem like two minutes since I said goodbye to my parents and waved them off in mid-September 2000, feeling very nervous and wondering what I’d got myself into.

There are the kitchens where I cooked my cheap, meagre meals. On the third floor is the room where I cried many bitter tears of frustration over my law textbooks and endless reading lists. There are Tavistock and Gordon Squares where I used to sit daydreaming about the Bloomsbury Group and thinking I was Virginia Woolf.

And around the corner is the student union bar where I was working when I watched the planes fly into the twin towers for the first time on TV on 9/11, understanding in an instant that the world had changed forever.

Back to Bloomsbury

I’m standing outside my old student halls in Bloomsbury where I lived from 2000–2001 during the first year of my law degree at University College London (see main picture above).

As I’m standing there, unable to say anything to the friend I’ve dragged along other than “I once had a panic attack right there on the pavement”, two young men bound out of the front door.

I guess they are 18 or 19 years old, clearly thrilled to be off the parental lead for the first time. They are fizzy and fresh; as yet unmarked by life’s worries, stresses and disappointments. And no doubt looking forward to all manner of student shenanigans in the weeks and months to come.

Involuntarily, my brain does the sums. My time in this house was 4 or 5 years before those young men were even born. Oh good grief — surely not!

A lot happened these last 23 years

To reassure myself that yes, almost a quarter of a century has elapsed since I called this place home, I do a quick review of what has happened in the intervening period:

  • I gritted my teeth through three tough years of law study in England and one in Germany.
  • I moved to Austria on my own, and realised that — far from being able to kick the law to the kerb — it was now my best chance to progress in this foreign land where I wanted to stay…
  • …so I pressed on with it, grudgingly. I got my English law degree validated, then went on to work at a commercial law firm, two banks and the Austrian financial markets authority before going self-employed as a legal translator.

Not bad for someone who wanted to break off their law degree in the second week of study, right?

(Besides all the career stuff, I managed to run three marathons and countless half marathons, climb a bunch of mountainstravel the world from Myanmar to Madeira, naturalise as an Austrian citizen, and meet and settle down with the love of my life.)

What a different person it was who lived in that house all those years ago. Of course, I know it was me. I know what I did, I know how I felt, I know what (and how) I thought. That young girl’s decisions and actions are what have brought me here today.

But standing here now, this all seems very detached and abstract, like I’m watching a particularly vivid film about someone else’s life.

UCL main quad Bloomsbury London
UCL main quad, Bloomsbury, London

The law and me were never meant to be

But I never liked the law. My legal career was never anything other than a series of pragmatic decisions that helped me to achieve other objectives. Namely: a life free of financial dependence on a man, a good job and comfortable lifestyle in my adopted home country. My feelings about it hovered permanently between resentment, boredom and outright hatred. I struggled and was often depressed.

Legal translation and self-employment were a much better match for my natural skills and I finally found a measure of satisfaction and meaning in my work. The depressive phases all but evaporated. Still, I wondered: will I ever get away from the law completely?

Much time was spent over the years asking myself this question and desperately searching for an answer (not to mention the exit). In the end, it came and found me.

2023: the year AI took my job

This year, AI ate my legal translation business. Machine translation is now developed enough to use reliably on legal translation assignments. Realising the potential for savings and efficiency, my clients bought the MT tools and began do all their translations by themselves. I was left with post-editing assignments. Not enough to live off — and not my cup of tea either.

I’d known for years that this moment would come — but when it did, it was swift and brutal. Almost overnight, my once-thriving business crumbled to dust. Surveying the new industry landscape, I quickly decided that there was nothing left for me here of interest. Time to throw myself clear and start something new. Digital marketing and SEO — here I come!

Just like that, I was finally out of the legal profession. After 23 years.

Closing the chapter

In the first six months of 2023, I was so sad. My first business, a huge part of my life these last 8 years, was gone. I had poured my heart and soul into it, learned so much. It’s no exaggeration to say that self-employment completely changed me as a person. It felt right and necessary to take some time to process the loss and allow myself to grieve.

I wrote a few blog articles for my website, drew out and savoured the feeling of competence and authority that only years of work in a certain field can bring. Getting myself ready to be a know-nothing newbie and doing the hard yards of competence acquisition once again.

It feels so perfectly fitting that my first trip back to London since my student years should come at this time.

Just as I stood on the front doorstep of Campbell House East in September 2000 and took my first step on this huge journey, so I stand outside the same house in October 2023, ready to complete it and close the chapter.

Perhaps it was a chapter that never should have been opened in the first place. Maybe, if I had my time again, I’d be more self-aware, make different decisions and take a different path. But what is the point in regret? I made the best choices according to my knowledge and understanding of myself at the time. Those choices have taken me on a wonderful ride, and I’m happy at where I am today.

Here’s to the onward journey.


Related articles:

The AI mindset

These outdoor movies are inspiring me in 2023

My 40th birthday – 40 thoughts upon reaching a big milestone

A list of my life failures – in no particular order


Photo credits: Katharine Eyre © 2023