Starting over

Five others who have found a new beginning

The poete maudit

Solicitor Amonn Shanahan, 36, enjoyed a fast-track lifestyle working for one of London's top legal firms. He now lives in a housing association flat in south London and spends his days teaching yoga and writing poetry.

"During the Nineties, I worked as a solicitor for one of the big city firms doing company law. I was involved in a number of major takeovers and mergers. Definitely on the fast track. I bought myself a flat and was working a 60-hour week. But after three years, it dawned on me just how much of your life is spent working.

That equation horrified me so much that I moved to a legal aid firm, working normal hours for victims of domestic violence. For about eight months, I felt as if I was doing some good, but then I began to doubt whether any kind of law could provide me with a framework for my future.

I talked to colleagues, friends and family about getting out, but they couldn't see how I could possibly survive outside the structure of a career. Around the same time, though, I started getting into yoga and writing poems, and, little by little, both things began to get a grip on me.

I went through six months of turbulence and furious questioning until finally I went on holiday and made a resolution to completely change my life. I gave up my job and my mortgage, and moved in with my mother. After that, I squatted for 18 months before getting the flat where I am today.

For the first three years, I had grave doubts about what to do with myself. The future was terrifying, especially the possibility of one day having a family to support. I didn't mind losing my status, but the prestige of a position makes you attractive to people and gives you a ready-made social life. All of that suddenly stopped. The drudge of having no money in London affected me seriously, and, after about two years, I found myself in a strangely isolating position - unfulfilled, unsure and pessimistic.

I existed by teaching yoga, lecturing in law, and generally foraging for pennies. I've done many different jobs during the past four years, including private tuition and working on building sites. Building sites are difficult because I prefer to sit silently in my breaks, reading my novel, rather than join in with the locker-room jokes.

But by teaching and writing poetry, I began to see a workable, long-term future. My great fear at the beginning had been that what I wanted was implausible. Once I began fulfilling my wishes, I began to feel much better inside, to have a real gut satisfaction with my days, which I'd never had before in my working life. A psychological resolution had taken place inside me - a kind of rebirth." Marina Cantacuzino

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