Resigning ambition?

I’m considering giving up the freelance efforts earlier than anticipated.  End of September had been my self-imposed deadline.  If sustainable work wasn’t coming in by then…  Yet I’m not sure how much more of this I can endure: the fretting and excessive self analysis.  Can I really do this?  Am I good enough?  Do I have enough to offer?  Do I care enough?  Neverending questions maddeningly grind and tear and sneer and accuse.  The unknowable indefinite transience causes psychological saggyness. 

So I’ve begun to look more closely at full time roles.  Public sector ones.

The brother stayed and was maddeningly insensitive in his interrogation once again.  In the same way as he takes jokes that step too far, when they’re beyond funny, the same way he’s almost offputtingly direct and focussed, he blathered away with questioning and thinly veiled rhetoric about not doing x and y.  What was stopping me? 

At length.  Most people can read body language, sense when they’re pressing too hard or somebody has become defensive, sensitive to such aggressive, direct or personal questioning. 

Not him.  He’s a highly successful reporter.  But could equally be a highly successful salesman.  We had a short period in our teens working for different double glazing firms.  He kicked arse.  I didn’t.

It’s the almost absurd lack of self consciousness and empathy which beggars belief.  He never tells himself, “oh, maybe I should just leave it there.  I’ve planted the seed at least.”  No, he drills it in.  Stamps up and down on the little bastard until it’s cowering.

Yet nobody has ever made me feel quite as insecure as my brother, as low on confidence, vulnerable and generally useless.  I imagine nobody ever will.  He has that hold.

It’s wrankled, evidently.  Caused temporarily deep gloom which has led to dark thoughts.  Made me think he’s right.  There are things I could be doing which I’m not.  Some of which I’m not prepared to do, which require more balls, aren’t quite my style or in my skill set.  Perhaps this freelance thing isn’t for me.

The sector I work in is full of quite overwhelmingly driven entrepreneurial sorts who thrive on typical notions of success, money, glamour.  I’m becoming more attracted to the idea of divorcing myself from all that altogether.  If I can, returning to the public sector, somewhere reasonably safe.  Public sector offices I worked in were much homelier, comfortable places than the paranoid private sector.  That’s appealing now.  A less explicitly ambition-driven, go-getty environment.  Comfy jumpers rather than sharp suits.  Although I daresay even middle-of-the-road public sector jobs are more competitive than ever at the moment.

My African excursion could easily be perceived as ill-judged, given my circumstances.  And I’m still affecting effort and work at the freelance thing, however much I may or may not care about it.  But in taking the trip I’m just trying to offer myself a reminder that life isn’t always so hard and serious, full of tricky problems, stress and crap.  There’s no single person who can remind me of that, or effectively illustrate it.  That life is capable of providing fleeting moments of wonder, awe, which makes you realise that you’re not that important, none of all this stuff is really.  That you probably shouldn’t take it that seriously.   Nobody to remind me.  My seldom seen nephew probably comes closest, but not through his deeply incisive mentoring.  Just by being two years old.

While “something will work out” might not hold much weight or meaning, perhaps the level of worry and stress you’re relentlessly whipping yourself with isn’t all that justified either.

Pessimism, a chance find & the ups of being down

A Sunday magazine supplement lay abandoned, next to me on a short South West train journey heading into Waterloo last week.  (The journey which led to the event of my last blog post here).  With nothing better to occupy myself with, I picked it up and began speed flicking for anything of interest.

Suddenly I hit upon an item which made me keep the whole magazine.  It was an in-depth item entitled “The Ups Of Being Down”, or possibly an extended extract from The Cassandra Chronicles by confirmed pessimist, Ariel Leve.

In it, the neuroscience and brain chemistry of pessimism is discussed, as well as other affecting factors, and the benefits of negative thinking.  It’s nicely embroidered with citations from pessimists including Thomas Hardy, Enoch Powell, Charles Darwin and Leonard Cohen. 

“Pessmism is playing the sure game…  It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed.”

Thomas Hardy

Here’s a link to the online version.

“All my life I have been negative.  I worry all the time, about everything,” the author writes.  And she asks the ultimate question: do I need to change or how do I deal with it?

If it’s not impacting on others, what’s the problem?  Surely it’s worse for pessimism to stop you from doing something because you believe you will fail, rather than thinking you will fail but doing said thing anyway.

I was heartened by the section where she rebukes those who unthinkingly claim that “It will work out,” when they can’t or don’t know this; it’s just the easiest thing to say.

They say that such conditions are a combination of genetics and environment, that there is a huge genetic component to anxiety and depression, both of which are associated to pessimism.  Recently, and with increasing frequency I’ve ordered myself not to become like my father.

Genes are apparently not enough and a traumatic event is required to flip the depression switch.  And I’ve never had this, for which I should be grateful, but it just makes me feel more unreasonably feeble and weak.

Another leftfield theory goes that if your mother gives you panicky genes, a panicky womb and a panicky upbringing, the brain will wire itself to expect the worse.  My mother gets in an awful state about going to the local shops.  It’s always been an event, something not to be indulged in without a fully concentrated plan. 

This sort of article leads you down blind, impossible to qualify alleys, I suppose, provokes idle speculation.

 

“I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain.  And I feel soaked to the skin.”

Leonard Cohen  

A mwah darlink PR cauldron

Attended an event yesterday evening which would have horribly confirmed any preconceptions any outsider may have about PR.

An assorted cross-industry gathering of people who practice the trade.  I’d walked up and down the same Soho street several times looking for a venue with the right name.  After asking someone I was told it was an alternative name for a bar I’d walked past several times already.  Having walked through town from Waterloo I felt my shirt sticking uncomfortably to the base of my spine through my jacket.

Walking upstairs into the dark, first floor “VIP Area” I was assaulted by my own heightened self consciousness.  Beautiful, groomed, typically PRy people adorned the room, the majority women.  As with other PR-specific events I’ve attended – events outside my usual preferred trade which usually contain mostly male smart-casual entrepreneurs and younger bedroom geeks – I feel slightly out of my comfort zone.  I don’t do gloss, big ultra white teeth, expensive clothes or attractive.  How achingly transparent is my roughly 67% self belief? 

Approaching the bar, one of the organisers thrusts her hand towards me.  I’ve never met her before, introduce myself.  I feel the mozzled sweat on my forehead beginning to fizzle lightly in this tight, warm, first-floor space full of bodies.  My body also realises I’ve stopped walking at a clipped pace and tries to compensate somehow.  I decide wiping my forehead with my hand would be more icky than ignoring it. 

She introduces herself, offers a beer, gestures to her colleague next to her who I have met once before.  Obviously they’re both attractive.  It’s a very mwah darlink atmosphere with cheek kisses aplenty, but I offer her my hand nonetheless, aware of the forehead sheen..  The way she shakes my hand immediately feels too stiff and formal for this environment and I feel faintly silly for not taking a step forward and confidently planting a kiss on both her cheeks.  Then aggrieved that I should feel that obligation.  I hate this gushy crap.

The next few hours brings chats with an assortment of characters, all with different specialities and at different stages of their careers.  What’s obvious in the room is the desire, and almost desperation, to exude that certain winning confidence, utter conviction, strength, bravado.  Even though plenty of us are new freelancers slightly concerned about whether this whole thing will be sustainable, and cautiously eye others in our own field as competitors.

A dark haired Irish girl who could easily be a forgotten Corr sister is a complete knockout.  She has the exuding confidence thing totally nailed.  Assertive, controlled, strong experience, firm head on her shoulders, human.  Smiley but not too smiley – like some certainly were, as if shielding behind banks of big, gleaming white teeth (fashion and lifestyle PRs).  And she was dynamic, vivid, energetic, damn hot.  It was all there, she needed nobody.  Disgustingly beautiful.  She looked upon me with good natured tolerance as we chatted.

Lengthily chatted to an essentially dull but equally intoxicated chap who worked in a niche technical sector, giving me hope that such work exists.  He rambled away at length, assuming a level of technical knowledge of me which I didn’t have but not testing it.  Made conversation easy and undemanding.

Then another noteable later on in the evening was an experienced chap who must have been in his fifties: debonair, distinguished, brash and raffish. Not unlikeable.  He had clearly had an impressive career, working for a number of top notch agencies, pitching in the Pentagon around 9/11 to the US defence (defense?) during a period spent in America.  He was all about image, he told me: confidence, expense and not seeming cheap, he told me.  You have to impress that on clients, not worry about expenditure if you have to go up north or overseas for a pitch.  Wear the best suits, pay for prospects and clients’ meals and entertainment, flatter them. 

I nodded earnestly to him, as if ravenously sucking up his knowledge, experience and advice.  It all sounded quite horrible, fraudulent, a sham.  Did I actually really want to do that sort of thing?  He was obviously talking about his particular, highly successful niche which he’d operated in at a high level for a number of years.  There are probably other, more understated ways of going about a reasonably successful career. 

If you really want it..

After making a half-hearted attempt to find the organisers,  I shook hands with the experienced chap and made an unshowy exit.

The employment dilemma: self freedom Vs employed security

Yesterday I revisited my old stomping ground.  I fancied a change of scenery from my usual gym and decided to go back to the one I’d originally signed up in, the one which was close to my old work.  It was only a twenty minute cycle across a largely suburban part of town. 

Afterwards I revisited an oft-frequented Starbucks a short distance across the business park.  A barista remembered me and my regular order, said it had been a long time since he’d seen me.  I told him I’d been made redundant.  I’m not sure if he heard, understood or if it went in.  I imagine people who work in Starbucks are good at asking questions an delivering the usual lines, but when it comes to listening, then that’s not really in their remit. Reasonably enough. 

He didn’t react or respond, so the conversation ended there.  We’d always had a friendly but clunky relationship.  Just missed whenever it came to actually conversing but been easy and amiable in the initial coffee transaction. 

I took my mug to the window and gazed out at the familiar view across the business park plaza.  Now I was weathered, new and different from several months ago, when I’d spent to many lunch hours sitting here reading books.  Now I was aware, changed, moved on, matured.

 
I pondered the compromise of employment which I and many people have encountered of late.  That dilemma: employment versus self employment, freedom versus security, incessant raging paranoia versus calm, relaxed obedience.  You’ll get your paycheck for sure and that’s all there is to worry about. 

Perching there I was pleased not to have to return to the leering, arrogant tower block, as I did so many times.  For that moment at least, cupping the steaming coffee, I was at ease with being my own boss, happy to have the independence to be there at 4.30pm of a weekday afternoon. 

Content not to be controlled or drawn back to a high-rise desk, and all its smugly impressive views. 

Confident in sporting a tracksuit top, three-quarter length shorts and trainers in such a corporate environment. 

Pleased, despite the current day-to-day crapping myself about the future and contentious sustainability of what I’m doing.  At odds with the necessarily firm psychological self-discipline not to mentally slump: so hard when your natural inclination is towards the pessimist. 

I would not return to that tower block or that office and all the nasty people in it if you paid me.  But I’d still like somebody to pay me.

“that ticket is for tomorrow, Sir”

It’s often with faint trepidation that I pass over a travel ticket for inspection.  And when I don’t, when I’m relaxed and confident that I’ve done it right: that’s when I get busted.

On numerous occasions I’ve screwed up, smugly relieving a self service machine of my pre-booked ticket, only to inspect it and find the date printed on the ticket is yesterday’s.  Once I made it late to an airport, roughly thirty seconds after the forty-five minute rule had been ruthlessly and officiously imposed by a young steward I wanted to smack.  I lost a four-day holiday, complete with hotel and return flights.  Which was quite annoying. 

Today I offered my mobile phone, together with ticket details, to a coach driver’s oafish young assistant.  He meticulously studied the words and code in the text message for a good thirty seconds before saying, “nope.”  I took it back, but today’s the…  

FUCKit..  Again..  This ticket was for tomorrow. 

He didn’t appear an especially charitable sort of fellow.  And his Captain Birdseye superior driver was equally dismissive when he returned.  “No, bus is full anyway.”  It didn’t look full but I didn’t complain.  It arrogantly rolled away, out of the station.

I always feel hindered in such contests by not being female and cute, in which case I feel – whether rightly or wrongly – that my chances of being treated with some lenience would be drastically improved if I didn’t look like I do.  If I were somehow more winning.

I went to a coffee shop and booked an online ticket for the next one, paying another twenty quid for the pleasure.  

Few other people share these instances of making such errors, possibly because when it comes down to it, it is your own personal error.  You are a retard for not being able to plan, differentiate numbers or double check dates.  There isn’t really anyone else to blame but yourself.

I’m fairly confident with travel tickets day-to-day.  It’s those journeys which require pre-booking: coaches, trains, planes.  Then, however hard I try to programme my brain with the appropriate date and time details, a slipped key or a one day longer idea just goes amiss somewhere.  A neuron fails to fire and I’m fucked.  I slink horribly, withdraw, swear at myself while never quite appreciating the conscientiousness of the person who tells me, effectively, that I’m an idiot. 

And even when I know I’m right, I have it sussed, then I can’t shake the paranoia that I have forgotten something, misread it, there might not be enough time. 

I’m never completely satisfied until I’m in my seat.  Unless I then suddenly find I’m on the wrong vehicle and my innate idiocy is confirmed once again.

confinement to connection

People can be presented to you in a quite dizzying whirl sometimes, just as you become to feel as if you’re in some sort of pseudo confinement, fundamentally cut adrift from others of your species forever.  Unable to engage and connect.

I opened a sporadically read paperback novel today.  Out of it fell a slip of paper which I’d previously given up as lost.  On it was semi drunken handwriting: a mash of dreary words about confinement while sitting in a Soho pub on my own.  That day had come at the end of a long stretch of not actually speaking with anyone.  Then I’d gone into town that day and professionally engaged with two separate groups of people. And females too.  THAT other unknowable side of our species.  And they’d been attractive ones as well.

After several solid days of extracting belly button fluff and intermittently moaning inside my head, I had seemingly transformed myself to a “normal” seeming, vaguely articulate sort of chap.  I remembered how to speak, at length, just like that.  It flooded back like I was regaining a superpower.  And the second meeting was an interview where the industry researchers were actively interested in my thoughts and what I had to say. Me!?  My views?  But I’m a sad lonely twat who just got made redundant and is trying, quite possibly in vain, to become sustainably self employed. Felt quite preposterous.

It chimed with my experience yesterday, and in the preceding days.  This week has slowly lifted me out of a horrible depressed fug simply because I’ve been active, out of the house, attending industry events, engaging and meeting people.  Even though there still hadn’t been any concrete promise of money at the end of it.  

Yesterday morning I attended a regular professional gathering in the centre of London and met a handful of people.  One middle aged man, dressed as if he was in the heavy rock band, Limp Biscuit (or however you spell it), told me about his word for a charity designed to raise awareness of young male suicide: the largest, (or second largest) killer of young men in the UK.  He had stats.  Another older lady was passionately animated about education.

Later, yesterday evening, the other end of a sweaty coach journey west, my parents dragged me to our local village pub.  There I chatted with an arrestingly sharp pensioner.  A single lady who had lost two husbands, one exceptionally tragically together with one child and her own foetus in a car accident.  She had worked as a nurse in West Africa, travelled extensively and spent her whole career serving the medical profession.  She had serious cause to feel harshly treated, to become depressed after loving and having those loved ones snatched scarringly prematurely from her.  Then lose her second husband too.  She then spoke about the therapy of healing through the channeling of energies, an area I find rather alienating.  Added to the insights she offered about the village’s history: the last trains to run through it, and the builder of its small primary school, which I attended; she was a fascinating person to meet and converse with.

Others in the pub supported the notion of a traditional country pub being a place where people can closely mix, banter and generally converse across generations in a way that’s much harder, or simply not done in a bustling city pub.  Sure the physical dimensions of this particular pub are such that avoidance is difficult, if not impossivle, but even so the atmosphere is tangibly warm, open and inclusive. 

 

Tried foolhardily to engage my mother through explaining my own ongoing angsty, misery, worries and fear.  She accepted this as a cue to talk about her own insecurities about work and employment.  Not that she needs to work anymore, and has a comfortable, large house in beautiful countryside, an adorable new puppy and a husband of fortyish years.  I quickly gave up, just nodded and appeared to sympathise with her predicament.