2016 – a fine whine

When the urge to write here strikes I open a Word document (which is why the formatting is sometimes skewed) on my Windoze machine and hammer at the keyboard. Afterwards I have a brief skim of the last post here and find it’s almost IDENTICAL to what I just wrote, making everything seem all the more pointless. But fuck it, eh?  Robots may appear to like it in order to get me to visit their blog, but nobody really reads this shit except me, several months or years later.

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It continues to be a professionally difficult time. Since the summer I have limped along with dribs and drabs of work, feeling by turns largely underemployed or totally unemployed. But I haven’t claimed any benefits of any kind. Some vague middle class pride stops me contemplating that. Things aren’t that bad yet. I can still fudge and fumble through.  So I still doggedly persist with work that doesn’t pay much, if anything. I still keep doing the speculative work I enjoy but which makes little business sense.

The impact of this has been considerable. You feel worthless. You have skills, fairly decent but not unusual skills. They are common skills and services available at a cheaper rate than the rates you are trying to sell them for. Because there are plenty of people in the same boat. There are plenty of younger people offering the same services, grateful for any sort of payment.

Clients, customers, buyers: they often care little about experience or quality of work. They just want it done. They just want the service. They don’t want to forensically analyse it. This leads to a bun fight between similar service providers.

Network Power Failure

Contacts and connections, strong networks of people: they all help. People who have been effectively incubated within a larger organisation – a media company or an agency – have a great advantage. Even if they don’t know it at the time, if they are a dejected office junior who makes lots of cups of tea and coffee for what feels like forever, it can ultimately be a great springboard and pay off in the long run.

If people first like you as a person, there’s a strong chance they will rate your work out of a basic involuntary human compassion. If they know you and like you, there’s a strong chance they will push work your way.  So if you leave an organisation on good terms and go freelance, you’re in a positive position to make freelance life sustainable.

Equally if you have a community you regularly see, that is hugely beneficial. So called ‘Mumpreneurs’ will often have parents at the school gates, as well as other clubs. Indeed any parents are likely to have a community of other parents they regularly see. If you’re in any kind of group you see frequently, the chances are you’ll have warm contacts who can help connect dots or give a hand up.

Not having anything like this puts me at a big disadvantage. (Another ‘poor me’ post, yes). I often look sideways at similar competitors and creatives, knowing their background and where they’ve come from, knowing that they spent a large part of their early career within x or y organisation, which is clearly still feeding them a good amount of work.  I see parents who are building themselves up via other parents. It eats me up a little, and is arguably my fault for never fostering that loyalty with one organisation or group of people, never staying put somewhere long enough.

Or it could just be back luck. That solid reliable saviour excuse. (Poor poor me).

Awkward Competition

Over the course of the year another person has emerged on my professional landscape. It feels awkward and confusing because I like the guy and half want to be mates, partly because I have very few mates and almost no social life. He’s modest and affable. I’ve come close to asking if he fancies a pint but bottled out. We’ve mentioned lift sharing a couple of times but it felt like he swerved it.

Another part of me hates the bastard through nothing but envy. He’s a competitor who hasn’t been doing the work that long but appears to be doing much better than me more through a quirk of commercial circumstance rather than ability. While his other music industry career looks really fun and cool and must pay reasonably.

Isolation Battle

Isolation continues to be a constant struggle.  The feeling of being so devolved from the world, from real people.  Even though real people often annoy me quite quickly, it feels like I should have more of those relationships: professional and social. It feels like I have never been as cut off from people as I am now. We moved out of the city so I don’t hang out in coffee shops pretending to work as much. I don’t go for random pints with a Kindle. I am not even around other humans but not conversing with them.

Not having regular ‘real life’ contacts seems artificial, cowardly self-defeating somehow.  Like you’re creating this strange bubble which will only generate further mutual alienation: you from other humans and other humans from you. You should stop being a dickhead. Just pop it, dive in, join groups, attend events, make an effort, try to engage with the world again. The effort it takes though. The indulging of all the loud look-at-me idiots along the way. Ugh.

Underemployment Shame

It feels shaming to be so underemployed and unbusy when you feel so potent. At 36 I should be out there achieving and accomplishing and doing. I should be earning and investing and making and providing. I feel sharp enough and fit enough and able enough. I should have built something by now. At least a network of contacts who rate me enough to give me work.

None of this is happening.  It feels like mass rejection. I am not great at aggressively promoting myself but it seems nobody is even faintly interested. The tide of failure drags you further out, sweeps you into this morass of nothing. There’s a gradual self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. The longer it goes on the more you believe you’re not worth it; in the same way Donald Trump believes he is worth it.

Instead I am doing housework and walking the dog. When I find myself enjoying it, smiling back at the infectious energy of the young labrador, I sometimes feel instantly guilty, like I do not deserve this life, house, wife, car, freedom, dog.  I have not earned it and do not earn it day-to-day.  I am not doing enough to make more money, I am being lazy. Yet somehow I have all this stuff I always wanted.

You see bad stuff on the news, poverty and war, and you feel a crippling shame and guilt that you don’t even do a boring miserable job for an “honest day’s” pay. That would be ok. That would be something. It almost makes you feel like carrying out some wanton act of self-sabotage. It needles towards an unhealthy self-loathing. You might at least be able to rationalise that the good stuff is a reward for psychological pain, angst and torment. You can feel no further emotionally advanced than a despondent teenager.

Work and Worry

In between walking the dog and doing housework I spend a considerable time sitting at my desk. I try to do things that feel constructive, like making my business more discoverable online, slowly honing certain skills. Although much of it feels like hopeful guesswork.

Most of the time I just sit here and worry: about lack of work, an unsustainable business, plummeting bank balances, the future, remaining childless and if we’re ok with that, not being ‘A Man’, not contributing enough, not having enough followers or engagement. I wonder if spending so much time in my head, devoid of human interaction, is driving me slowly mad.

Then there’s the wider world, Trump, Brexit, Syria, Yemen, Russia. If you want to do some solid worrying right now and you have an internet connection, a television or radio, you are spoilt for choice.

In an angrily indignant mood at my own supposed misfortune, sometimes I’ll steep in pathetic self-pity. I’ll quietly rage against the social class system, against how it clearly pays to go to the right school or university, be born in the right family, brown nose people, to suck dick or be a raging sycophant. Everything is fixed. Sure, you can get lucky, but hard work doesn’t really pay off.

Or I’ll bitterly compare myself with others who appear to be doing so much better than me and think if only… If only I had that network, knew those people, had that confidence, was able to sell myself, didn’t shrink from selling myself.

There’s this well known thing of “fake it ’til you make it”. You pretend you’re bigger and better online than you actually are. It’s an accepted part of the digital world and social media life, the way we broadcast idyllic life highlights. But it sits uncomfortably with me and always has. Hence this blog, hence my lack of much professional success. Fake news is now a thing. Faking generally is now fine. Public artifice and plasticity is expected. Lies and untruths: it’s all cool. It’s all strongly advisable.

nothing new

Haven’t posted here for a few months and there’s unlikely to be anything new. The same old neuroses and fears wheeled out in a different set of words.

The other week I made the associated Twitter account private. I’d seen it presented by Twitter as a suggested account to those who follow my two professional accounts, which scared me – the idea that professional contacts might put it together. Although I’m fairly sure none would, that hardly anyone would care.

While I have prangs of fear like that, there’s also a conflict. In my view, this blog contains some of my best writing. That is, amongst my scintillating content about the elegant sleek sophistication of taps and bidets, business critical enterprise software and essential felt roofing materials. Part of me would like to use and promote this place more. But it’s scary because it is so personal. But it being so personal is what makes it good to my mind. Round and round we go…

Work and finances are the constant nagging neuroses. Now is a time of huge global uncertainty, of continued economic uncertainty. It can nudge you into panicking and make anxiety worse. If Donald Trump can become the US President, then literally anything can happen. You can spin this in positive and negative ways. That dream job you think you could never get?

Still I regularly feel like I’m cheating, like I should feel guilty for not doing more.  I am doing everything I can think of to drum up business but business is not flowing freely. Jobs and work are bitty, stop-start, dribs and drabs. A lot of totally speculative work where the chances of making a few quid are stacked against me. Come the 2016/17 end of year accounts it wouldn’t surprise me to find minimum wage levels of annual income.

Without such worries I could exist perfectly happily. With a life-changing cash windfall these concerns could be snuffed out. I could happily occupy my days walking the dog (I could occupy days doing this alone), doing a little housework, reading books, watching films, drinking coffee and whisky, watching seasons pass, being a loner dreamer fool, perhaps writing in this blog thing from time to time. I feel guilty because these are things I already spend time doing because I am not that busy.

I could spend even more time sitting at a desk generating self promotional content which makes me look like a desperate dickhead, or frittering away cash on advertising, or attending networking events, or any number of things. Which is why I beat myself up when reading a book or walking the dog. But I do do these things as well. They just seem ineffective, as much as I continue to hack away in an attempt keep visible. Which is how I can just about manage to forgive myself when I feel guilty, and like I don’t quite deserve this life, wife, house or dog.

It feels worth remembering that I have never, at any point in life, felt that busy. Not consistently, not in the way I see other people are, dashing around on train platforms glued to smartphones, busily flapping and flustering and talking fast about meetings and how much they have to do. My wife is one of these people. And I think perhaps I was never shaped to be that frantic person everyone looks to. I never needed to be needed quite so much, or maybe I just wasn’t needed. I never stayed anywhere long enough or fostered enough loyalty in anyone. I alienated way more than I invited. I was moulded into being a wallflower who might step forward now and again, who abhors exhibitionists and needy loud theatrical voices. Like my brother.

And yet all humans do need to be seen and heard and valued. (Someone somewhere used that combination of words and it chimed with me). We need recognition, professionally and personally. That’s how self esteem survives. Without that, everything is harder. And that’s what I find tough: the idea nobody gives the faintest shit about you, and the hard brutal evidence that that is the case. You are professionally of no use to anyone, sorry. There are hundreds, thousands of people just like you.

*

We still talk about kids occasionally, but agree that now is not the time, not with work the way it is. Not with me being a woefully inadequate provider and a useless businessperson. She hates me talking like this but I feel it is not untrue.

All of the things mentioned in previous posts still hold true. Part of us thinks we’d be ok with never having them, we’re occupied enough, fine with being slightly selfish. Then you see the smallest thing in the street, or in a film, an emotion pipe cracks and something starts leaking out which leads you to question everything.

We love our young dog, possibly too much. We wonder how much of a surrogate child she is, our baby, and if this is alright. Being a morbid idiot, I think not infrequently about all the possible horrible things that might happen to her, her dying and how hard it will be. Even though that will hopefully not happen for over a decade and we could all be dead in the Trump apocalypse by then anyway.

the new fear

Now I am scared for new reasons.

Finally I got something.  An interview with a couple of straight, slightly stiff young professionals, followed by a presentation to them and their bosses, the company’s unremarkable (slightly vacant?) founders, then an interview with them.  Then an offer, on initially freelance terms.  Some number-crunching, a 3 month proposal, an acceptance.

Still it means returning to a ‘proper’ office environment, a Monday to Friday 9-5ish slog, a clutch of new colleagues.  (I cannot deal very well with those I consider to be tossers – what if they are young, headstrong pricks?  See last post.  How will I cope?)  A seven day notice period on each side.  It worries me that I am neither engaged nor impressed by much at the company, yet.  Least of all the founders.  Maybe that’s a good thing, an opportunity for me to make an impact.  And I barely know the company or them as people yet anyway.  I should reserve my harsh judgements.

On the other thing, the dream pursuit angsted about here previously, another option has been pursued and appears to be going in the right direction. That dream is not dead.  But there is still fear and nervousness about the new future unknown.

I fear burn-out, potentially working evenings and weekends and full office days and having no flexibility or leave.  I fear change and pressure.  I fear working really hard.  This is partly because I am slightly lazy – I like having time to go to the cinema and read books and drink coffee and walk and listen to podcasts and idle; and partly because working hard is something I have grown to prefer doing on my own terms.

I fear small-talk.  This week I overheard a perfectly comfortable, relaxed, freewheeling conversation between three colleagues about the weather and age and it made me want to shake its participants.  Anything planned this weekend?  Good weekend?  This weather, eh?  Haha, yes.  Eurgh, no.  TALK ABOUT SOMETHING… YOU KNOW..  A THING, TALK ABOUT AN ACTUAL THING, ANYTHING.

I fear (well don’t fear but hardly look forward to) the obligation to donate to anyone’s charity efforts, the obligation to sign birthday cards and leaving cards.  All that.  It feels forced and artificial and I’d really rather not thanks, but I guess I shall.

I fear (or rather just dread) all the tedious shirts and ironing and formal office wear and having to think about clothes all the time.

I fear (truly fear) handshakes.  Over the last few months I seem to have developed what I can only deduce is early arthritis in a small bone or tendon of my little right finger.  It can hurt and throb to the core in cold weather, or twang when drying up something awkwardly shaped, but most of all it can feel acutely painful when it is crushed in a vice-like handshake.  I eye people up beforehand, knowing I will have to shake their hand, predicting whether it will be a bone-crusher. I shake and smile and swear in my head (good to meet you, YOU BASTARD) and try to ignore the pain.

This strange, apprehensive in between time before starting something quite radically new keeps finding me discombobulated, confused, unsettled, spikes of sudden nervousness about being judged by strangers, in real life, unhidden or obscured by the internet. Briefly without the calming influence of my girlfriend around – an influence I realise I probably take for granted, I feel like a bewildered old man who will shortly be moving to an old people’s home. He knows he should and it’s ‘for the best’, but he still doesn’t like it one bit.

The belligerent one-thing-after-the-other bobsleigh of life is seldom without fear. That is, for some, particularly for those of a naturally anxious or worrisome disposition.

Of late I’ve considered myself against those to whom the world appears to be a big playground: businessmen who think nothing of taking out big bank loans, getting venture capital funding, growing, selling or dissolving businesses; having kids, getting married a few times, buying stuff they can’t afford.  My notion is that usually these people were largely raised in an environment without fear or worry around money, without the seeping stress of parental nervousness.  Incumbent in these people is the beautiful idea involuntarily translated that there really is nothing to fear about life.  Money is not to be feared.  You can just trust that everything will be alright.  You are good enough.

The constant worry and stress about cashflow has dogged me for a long time and I would love for it to slacken off now.  I am open to the compromise of exchanging one prison of anxiety (financial unpredictability, instability) for the new chains of an office and all the tepid obligation that brings, (regular hours, human frustrations), but hopefully reliable pay, the ability to see slightly beyond the next corner, not worry as much about paying rent every month, the chance to plan ahead, or maybe take a nice holiday.

There are others who I’m sure would be more cavalier with similarly up and down cashflow and bank balances. They would take risks, worry less, do stuff regardless, get loans, use credit cards, fall into their overdrafts.  But still, you know, live.  The feckless bastards.  And I often wonder if I had invested more bravely, might my business ventures have reaped proportionately better rewards, greater comfort and sustainability.  A swisher website, slightly better kit, more aggressive marketing.

Better not to dwell now, although that’s what you always do.  Try to look ahead.  Tentatively, probably nervously, try to embrace the new fear.

dream dying

It’s like a slow and heartbreaking kind of a death, feeling like giving up on a dream, relinquishing a long-held hope.

You sense things aren’t working and won’t ever work, it’s just not happening. The stubborn hope begins to wobble, teeter and ebb away together with the dim belief, even while you still sustain the work-rate.

Your bank balance, like a football league table, doesn’t lie. It brutally doesn’t tell the sob stories of bad luck and industriousness and how much you care.  And its power to suddenly influence mood is never dimmed. The sharp injection of panic and fear thanks to another retainer lost, income stream dented again, squeezed down now to almost nothing.

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job’s worth

Last week I came the closest in a while to getting a proper job again.  It was a job working in a technology firm of the kind I have worked both in and with before.  My skills and experience were directly relevant.  There were two jobs on offer.  I made it to a second interview, after which I found out from the clipped, no-nonsense recruitment consultant, that at this stage there were three of us going for two jobs.

Returning to the world of regular office-hours employment feels like a surrender and defeat after trying to haul my business through the wreckage of losing its primary client and revenue-driver, adding in a service which I am genuinely passionate about.  I have been getting scraps of work and feel like my tentacles are slowly spreading out further (I said tentacles, potty mind).  Sadly nothing is sustainable and it’s all month by nervous month.

As a result I remain generally worried, always have a wary eye on my bank balance, wonder if or when I should dip into my savings again, eat boringly, live modestly and deeply resent being able to plan nothing.  I would love a holiday, an adventure somewhere.

Hence I am applying for jobs.

In the previous interview stage I had met my competitors.  We’d done exercises, sat in the waiting room, made nervous small-talk and endured some painful silences together.  The whole process was conducted keenly as if the recruitment agency was rather eager to justify their fat retainer, and as if they’d been watching too much of The Apprentice.  Having met and worked with my competitors, and knowing all of the above, I’ll admit that ok, yes, I fancied my chances of getting an offer.

But I didn’t get an offer.  I was the one to miss out.

This brought a mixture of feelings.  However many interviews you attend, or crap first dates you go on, rejection always smarts.  It almost smarts increasingly badly because you think you should grow hardened to it now.  But it’s still essentially someone weighing you up and, after all due consideration, telling you to fuck off.  Call me oversensitive; maybe I am; it still smarts.

On leaving the second interview, when I didn’t know the outcome, I was full of equally mixed feelings.   In the process of being thanked and told I could go, I realised I hadn’t been given the chance to ask any questions.  When a sales guy – in his 40s, a flowery creative shirt, sharp designer spectacles, badly wanted to be in Mad Men – tried to wrap things up, I asked if I could ask some questions.  He fell back to his seat and laughed, embarrassed at his oversight.

My main question was for the main boss guy.  This main boss guy hadn’t even been present when I entered and began my presentation – ‘fighting a fire in another office’, which could have suggested he wasn’t keen, knew already that he didn’t want to offer me a job.  So why invite me back?  Throughout the process he had revealed little about himself, been fairly contained and a little distant.  He’d asked what motivated me in the previous stage, I wanted to ask him the same thing.  A business has to sell itself to potential candidates too.  This one barely tried.

My question about him and his business offered the chance for him to wax lyrical in typical tech firm CEO manner, about how his work and the company was his life; how he didn’t understand ‘work-to-live’ people at all; how people could have lives outside of work (early 40s, he wore no ring); how he would call his tech guy at 11.30pm for an update; how some of his team didn’t like him because he changed his mind so much and he didn’t care.  The man freewheeled with supreme confidence, almost as if he was trying to appear a complete prick.  There wasn’t much I could say in return.

He reminded me of the idiot I’d spent the best part of my freelance life working for.  These CEOs admirably built something at a ripe technological time based on their skills and expertise, but were also more than likely dealt large slices of luck along the way.  Oblivious to luck and chance and the possibility that things could have turned out differently, they transform into monsters, psychopaths often devoid of any empathy, not terribly pleasant people.

You understand my mixed feelings when I left, thinking I stood a reasonable chance.  Could I work so directly to such a man again? It remains an important question, to which I don’t know the answer.

While I like to think I’m independent-minded and can fend for myself in the world of work, I remain a slave to the pound.  With still dwindling resources and only scraps of money coming in, I have never been more aware of it.  I want relative comfort, the relative comfort I’ve been accustomed to.  And more than that, I want to be able to take holidays, to stop and disconnect myself entirely.  This is something I’ve barely been able to do at all in the last few years.  Nothing more than long weekends.  Is it too much to ask?

Being permanently connected, even when you probably don’t need to be, even if you just feel obliged, just because you can and because, you never know, it might lead to an opportunity: this is a new thing our generation is having to handle, a new thing I sense isn’t always appreciated by older generations.  It’s really fucking exhausting.

And the beat goes on.

business studies

Walking through the small business park which lies between my residential area and the city centre, I pass ground floor office windows.  Inside are reception areas where middle aged women with good posture look prepared and unproductive, the card game solitaire sometimes active on their monitors.

The truth is unspeakable, that much of office work and business isn’t always busy because the majority of people don’t have very important jobs.  What makes important jobs important and coveted is that not many people can do them, or even want to do them at all.  Not that I’m wishing to disrespect all and sundry.  I’m just saying lots of people probably could do most jobs that exist, therefore they’re unlikely to be all that critical in the grand scheme of things – however it may seem at the time.   (You could also legitimately claim that this is line is encouraged by the fact that I’m pretty sure I’ve never done much in my work that I think really matters, and others might think quite differently.  I’ll take the hit there).

But whether busy or (one might suspect) not, plenty of people feel the press of having to affect and even broadcast their busyness.  It’s a bugbear of mine, the amount of Tweets about nothing other than being bloody busy: “not enough hours in the day” / “where does the time go?” / “how is it that time already?”  The subtext of which is “gosh, I’ve been busy, ergo I am an important and wholly valid human, aren’t I?  AREN’T I?!  HEY, WORLD! KNOW THIS THING!

It makes me wither at the futility of it all or, if I’m in a different mood, want to commit wanton acts of vandalism.

And yet knowledge of the conspiracy also helps me to cope when I myself am not busy.  There will always be peaks and troughs.  I like to think that Barack Obama occasionally turns to Michelle at the end of the day and says, “you know, I did fuck all today.”  I think I’m gradually learning to cope with them a little better than I have done, notwithstanding the occasional panic attack at having nothing at all like any plan or vision of my future five years hence.  It’s an occupational hazard.

Looking wider at business I’m also growing more confident about the recipe for success, how its primary ingredients are confidence (also known as belief, bravado, bluster, the rigid unwillingness to consider any other viewpoints, and bollocks); together with basic luck (having that one key customer who comes along at just the right time, and who you can grow with).  Skill, ability, expertise, a clever idea: they’re important too, but smaller helpings are needed.  Also important is doing whatever you do a lot and working hard and not being lazy; that’s useful.

Belief is king though.  Without the belief, confidence, super ego and free-running bullshit, you’ll struggle to achieve much.  If you don’t believe yourself, if you think you’re a fraud and a chancer, that’s likely to come through.  Added to which, if you’re dealt a blow or two of bad luck that will impact confidence.  But if you carry on having just enough belief to get by, teamed with maybe a little over the average quotient of ability (arrogant bastard), everything should be fine.

Should.