conscientious objection

This idea has been swirling around inside my brain for a while.  It concerns institutionalisation, careers, independent thought and generally having opinions about stuff.

Two acquaintances from different parts of working life came together in my thoughts recently.  Both men (one early 30s, the other late 30s) are really nice and pleasant.  They agree with everything I say to an almost boring extent. (Although perhaps they think I’m boring).  Both I find are naturally keen to please and agree with anything and everything anyone says, whomever their interlocutor might be.  So much so that they make for pleasant, amiable but essentially rather bland conversation.

In work meetings, the one constantly blurts

“100 per cent”
“yeah, totally” – so anxious to give his support it seems like he can’t actually be listening and thinking.

How does such blind acceptance and apparent disengagement happen?  Because of careers?  A certain type of employer (and I’d wager the majority of employers) encourage and promote acquiescence, acceptance, obedience and agreement at all times.  They actively, although perhaps not voluntarily, deliberately or consciously, want people not to think too hard about what they’re doing, to operate within the defined parameters.

Naturally that makes sense if you are an employer; there have to be some rules and guidelines.

Yet to openly have independent thoughts and personal opinions at all: that can be dangerous, a risk. You’re told it’s not, of course, and that everyone welcomes open dialogue and new ideas.  In certain industries and workplaces though, it is not at all welcomed. People are threatened by unpredictable opinions. Although mine are not usually fierce or unbending opinions –  I’m always perfectly happy to be outargued by someone who knows more, or change my mind if it seems I am wrong – they are opinions nonetheless. And opinions of any kind are really not as common as you might think. At least not in my current world.

If you just agree and accept, life and work is easier, safer and more comfortable. Although making decisions can be hard for those people. That’s why you might come up against confused public sector inertia – older professionals perhaps, who sit behind desks playing solitaire, befuddled by much of this modern world. Nothing happens because nobody can confidently decide anything. Nobody wants to proffer a contentious opinion or make a decision that might be wrong. And there’s nobody available to agree with.

The world and the workplace reward people who don’t have opinions, people who are safe and nice and pleasant, who will passively agree to anything and get on with it. This is cosy and comfortable because it means industries and cultures don’t have to think too hard or be challenged about certain things concerning itself. It gives rise to institutionalisation, it breeds a fusty insularity even in the most public of arenas. This week’s Malky Mackay Cardiff City / Crystal Palace furore has turned a spotlight on football culture, what is and isn’t accepted within the game. Will anything really change as a result? Doubtful.

Everything is just easier if you’re not a pain.  Agree, accept, copy what everyone else does and we’ll all get along fine. Anyone else, you can be eliminated.

all you are not

Sometimes I use this place to whine and whinge in an awfully boring, embarrassingly self-pitying fashion. Here is another one of those posts.

It’s almost the opposite of Imposter Complex and yet it feels like a close relative: that unavoidable feeling or even that fleetingly bold *knowing beyond all reasonable doubt* – you really are better than where you are working and what you are doing, day in, day out.

But there you still are, grudgingly pootling along, uncaring and bitter, with an unhealthy lack of respect for who you’re working for, who you’re working with and what you’re working for. You know you could slowly and regrettably turn into the kind of person you deride.  Jeez, you look around the office, they are all idiots. Most of them. Especially him.

It hurts more when you know what you’d love to do and can think of and see countless other jobs you’d love to do instead, when you know you could do some of them if it weren’t for all the other fucking people on the planet who probably look shinier and smile more and sell themselves better than you do. Then it breeds major frustration, more bitterness, dejection, hopelessness.

It constantly stabs and jabs and irks you:

– when you are trying other things, have tried other things for some time;

– when you are looking and applying for things, but never quite as hard as you might;

– when you had an opportunity which might have been a brilliantly lucrative opportunity, but you turned it down, you fool;

– when there are lots of not very impressive people doing significantly better than you;

– when, despite the above, not that long ago you were working on a call centre earning virtually minimum wage, so you should not expect much;

– when, despite the above, you still demand more of yourself because you feel capable of more, crave more, at least more than this;

– when you are apparently always coming up short.

It feels similar to when I played football during my 20s, and always felt capable of playing a league or three higher, but never did. I accepted languishing, an ok player in a not good team, getting soundly embarrassed most weeks.

This all leads you to rationally conclude that in spite of your confidence that you are better than all this, actually no.

You can’t be that much better than where you are, can you? The life league table doesn’t lie. Your value is only dictated by what people will pay. You are where you deserve to be.

There is no clever scientific equation that will suddenly solve itself and make everything clear.

Buckle up, prick. Keep going. Stop whining.

It’s hard though. Unfair and fucking hard.

the stickiness of regret

A week on from deciding, faux assertively, that no, I would not be pursuing my application for the job in the city of London, I can’t shake off the heavily lingering sense of what if?  Regret.  Opportunity lay before me and I (stubbornly, stupidly?) slammed it shut.

Much of the week I spent in the office of a hiring company where I’ve spent most of this year, trying to be effective in the summer lull, feeling threatened by the conscience of my own effectiveness.   Also feeling threatened and stupid about withdrawing my application, watching and overhearing the hiring manager negotiate a salary considerably fatter than one I would have initially accepted.  “Companies have been distraught when I have left” the apparently highly confident lady candidate had appealed her case to my colleague, negotiating her salary upwards.

Was she that much better than me? I wondered.  More confident in her own abilities, without doubt.  Better at selling herself, clearly, the bluster and bullshit.  That matters so much.

There was a mild hot flush of panic shortly after lunch one day.  What was I doing here?  What was I doing with my life?  Why had I passed up that opportunity?  Such things didn’t come around that often; hardly ever. Idiot.  What would happen now?  Would we become a pair of bores who always talk about leaving a place or going travelling but never actually do?

The office was hot, I felt my heart rate go up for no apparent reason, I struggled to focus, adjust my eyes from screens (how I resent screens) to office, I was reminded of the probably entirely unrelated tingling down one arm after my morning swim.  I breathed deeply a few times, walked to the gents and sat on the toilet, closed my eyes, calmed myself and eventually it passed.

After work that day I went to the quieter upstairs room of a cheap pub and shamefully bought two drinks: a pint and a large whisky.  The numbing effect of the latter felt divine.  I sat in a corner booth with my drinks and read a book on my Kindle, eyes glazing over pages, attention levels fading in and out.  Alcohol can temporarily remove the sharp edges from life in a heavenly and entirely necessary way.

We still want out of here, me and her.  She has been away a couple of days this week and is currently back at her family home, trying to take yet another baby-step in the seemingly neverending journey to making that ghost-house sellable.  Her aged cat has health problems every other week which she has to return to, tend to and pay for.  Because her brother who lives there never will.  I constantly battle to fend off cruel remarks which bubble up in my head.

After investing a lot in camera gear this summer, a frustrating piece of administration is keeping me from returning to a stadium this weekend, where I itch to return. So today, this afternoon, right now, I remain trapped inside my head, worrying, fretting, being nervous and scared.

Possibly, probably we do want London.  She is increasingly persuaded, and growing in confidence in terms of sending applications.  But getting an acceptable, half decent job through conventional channels feels overwhelmingly difficult.  I’ve seen horrible statistics reflecting how hard it is to apply for a position online and get a job.  It needs more: recommendations, connections, friends in right places, help.

Then there’s everything else.  Finding somewhere habitable and not extortionate to live…

And so the sense of floundering is back stronger than ever.  The sense of wanting something that’s really difficult to achieve – a sense I’m not unfamiliar with.  I wonder if I’ll always struggle with that lazy adolescent fug of just wanting life to suddenly happen to you please, hoping for a sudden chain-reaction of good fortune and opportunities, discovery or recognition, something to flip your life on its head in a positive way.

need to change

Change is in the air. Or at least it feels like it could be, should be.  Much has happened in the last few months.  I joined that company with the strangely blank bosses, albeit on a freelance contract nature.  (Anything to haul myself out of the call centre where I had desperately found myself around Christmas).  My respect grew for one of the men: the Welshman, pragmatic, aware of his limitations, his ‘old school’ nature, disciplined and careful.  My respect for the other didn’t.  He is one of the most profoundly stupid people I have ever worked with, and a wildly deluded boss.  Merely conversing with him tends to be an embarrassing experience, which I avoid whenever possible.

I am fairly sick of this western side of the UK, and open to opportunities elsewhere.  Although there are elements of my life I am happy with, there are others where I feel like a frustrated underachiever and perhaps always will.  One of those is my career, or lack of one.  No neatly paved path or obvious direction.  It’s not helped by a CV which pinballs around with too little semblance of solid linearity.

An opportunity arose.  Pretty well paid, in the middle of the city of London (so you might expect well paid).  Given that it is mere months since I was secretly, ashamedly working on virtually minimum wage in a Cardiff call centre, of course the opportunity was attractive.  I could do that job, I ticked most of the boxes. It was flattering they were interested.  The City of London though.  Every day?  A commute like that, all the living cost expense?  Now I am seriously considering retracting my interest before a second interview.  My impressions of a skittish, difficult to pin down boss, have put me off.  He seems similar to another boss I had once upon a time, not stupid or incompetent, but hyperactive, instinctive and disorganised, winging everything slightly too transparently.  His appears to be a company with no discernible identity – a good opportunity to make an impression for me, but no, I think, no.  A number of things don’t feel quite right.

That was the only opportunity but still, change remains in the air.  Or at least I want it to stick around.  I want things to change now, I want to leave that office with its blank bosses and not inconsiderable number of blank people, I want serious life things to kick on for me.

I proposed to her a few weeks ago (sunset, coastal walk, one knee, ring, all that – her face crumpled in on itself in a way I’ll never forget, she said yes).  No grand Facebook announcement but thanks to excitable family still a modest flurry of scribbled cardboard congratulations from people I barely know arrived through the door.  Now I want to marry her (cheaply, with as little fuss as possible), leave this flat – as perfectly functional as it remains – try to grow up another stage.  I want a dog, still, and maybe even small people. Who knows?  Our thirties are ticking on; I cannot look at Facebook without seeing the small people of friends.  I think I do want them; one at least.  Not to have a relationship like that seems an awful waste.

I have invested so much in photography: financially and in time and effort.  I still love it and want to do more, get better and quicker and more competitive in sport. The adrenalin kick is like nothing I can get in an office or elsewhere in working life.  Thousands of people screaming around you has the undeniable effect of making you think a thing really matters, even if that thing is essentially quite banal and doesn’t really matter all that much.  I still want to stick on that journey for as long as I can, even if only at weekends and occasional evenings.

Change is possible all the time and the major thing stopping us making big changes is ourselves: the actual doing of it.  Upheaval: even the idea of it is scary and unsettling.  We blame ourselves and feel guilty for the lack of balls, too easily accepting accidental happenstance, serendipity, luck.  In retracting my application for a position that didn’t feel right, it feels like spurning an opportunity, a potentially significant turn of life.  Could London still happen again?  Might something else arise?  Bristol?  Elsewhere over the bridge, away from this often tedious cluster of self-aggrandising villages?  Or will we just stick with the dragon we know?