The Dream

While working as an Inspector of Health and Safety with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK’s law enforcement agency, I developed an acute form of what is commonly referred to as RSI. I was unable to move my right arm and experienced reduced mobility in my left. Any attempted movement in my right arm resulted in excruciating pain. After a lot of treatment settled long-term chronic pain.

As a result of the injury, I lost my career, my identity and the means of earning a living.  I was in a miserable place, unable to think about the future and what I could do. All I could do was sit on the sofa unable to do anything, except listen to my favourite music, mainly my namesake Emma Johnson, a clarinettist playing the particularly lovely Victorian Kitchen Garden suite.

Then in 2009, I watched Susan Boyle walk onto the stage of Britain’s got talent and tell the incredulous judges that she wanted to be a famous singer, like Elaine Paige. As she sang the opening bars of ‘I dreamed a dream’ from the musical Les Miserables, those judges knew that they were watching the birth of a star.

I sat and reflected that if Susan Boyle can dream why couldn’t I.  As I allowed Emma Johnson’s soothing music to wash over me, I dreamed of being able to live what’s termed a ‘portfolio career’, earning my living from several different types of jobs. I wanted to be able to help others in some format, using the knowledge and skills that I had acquired over the years in a variety of jobs. At this stage I wasn’t sure what that looked like. I thought that it would be good to combine this with some means of utilising the artistic side of my character, including being able to play my clarinet again. And finally, I wanted to be able to get out and explore the world. I desperately wanted to do some of the activities that I watched saw others doing. If I am honest I was jealous of people doing relatively normal things that they seemed to take for granted, such as dressing, being able to go shopping, or trying on clothes without crying as moving increased the pain.

Everything seemed overwhelming, I felt that I couldn’t do anything.  Then I remembered the story of the monk who when asked how he had done the amazing feat of walking across the Himalayas, modestly replied “one step at a time.” The message being that nothing is insurmountable if broken down into small steps. So that’s where I started on what seemed my impossible journey, by breaking each idea into small stages or elements and then each of those was broken down into small chunks and then I planned how I was going to achieve each of those small elements. Everything I wanted to do involved more movement, so I focussed on my rehabilitation exercises. I established a full-time training schedule as if I was preparing for a marathon, and with equal determination doing the set exercises each day, measuring the frequency of what I had done. All so that I could reflect on how much I had achieved and thus boost my very shaky morale.  

I went through some very black periods when I thought that I would never achieve my goal, but two people, my physio and my husband, repeatedly told me ‘You can do this’.  My husband had been my rowing coach and reminded me that if I could win a World Championship using this same training technique, then I would regain my health. All this continued until I got to the stage when I could start to play my clarinet again. At first moving my fingers the small distance between the different keys was very slow, but gradually it improved. So did my mood from being able to play music again. Playing became occupational therapy, which strengthened my hand and arm which encouraged me to work at the exercises even more. It was a win-win situation.

With regards to returning to work, I used a similar technique. I started by clarifying exactly what I wanted to do. I then worked out how I could achieve this by breaking what I wanted to do into small chunks, all the elements that made up the final goal. For example, I enrolled in a University course which meant relearning the art of studying. I then built the business concept until it got to the stage when, here I am writing this article describing my concept and methodology to you: living my dream of having a portfolio career, balancing work with the artistic side of my nature with working, having fun and enjoying living.

By dreaming and a bit of planning, I have turned my life round, from days of misery and pain to one of energy and hope, which is why I am sharing this with you.  If Susan and I can dream about where we want to be in the future, so can you. So, go on - close your eyes and dream.

- Rosemary Johnson


Rosemary is the founder of My Future Career Academy and passionate about assisting people to successfully navigate the future of work, particularly women. She balances navigating a portfolio career, which includes a commitment to lifelong learning, coaching and mentoring with her artistic side.