Dear April 2018 Me

The future leeringly dangles hopes and fears in our faces.

Right now, in the week the UK tip-toes towards the Brexit activation button like a manic young child who has been specifically told not to do something, it feels like I am staring down a long dark barrel.

Now feels really hard, properly hard. I really hope Future Me who glances back at this sometime in the next few months or years is feeling better than I am right now, that they’re in an improved state of mind, that they don’t feel like crumbling and crying or screaming at the dreadful unfairness of it all every twenty minutes or so.

If they feel worse, which they may well, things must be terrible.

Is April 2018 Me back home in the village living with my parents? Did we have to give up this house because we couldn’t handle the mortgage payments, and bills, and general cost of living?  (Everyone speaks of how tough it is getting on the housing ladder but there’s less coverage about the humiliation of falling off it after climbing one rung). More to the point because couldn’t handle the mortgage. My wife was always comfortably doing her bit, employed in a serious job. But I let the side down, as I had been doing for months. Despite trying hard, doing everything I could think of, nothing was working. All that constant talk of things being financially unsustainable actually had a conclusion, a sad ending. As it turned out, I could not stumble along indefinitely.

This came after the point of no longer being able to bail myself out with savings from the dedicated tax account. It came after I finally, painfully swallowed hard and was forced to accept bailouts from my wife. It came after the even harder, sickening acceptance of accepting help from my parents. Have I, April 2018 Me, felt sick with guilt and shame and inadequacy for well over a year? Even after all the charity payments I shamefully accepted, am I still unemployable, still fucking useless, still of no professional value to anyone?

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Maybe April 2018 Us are still the house and getting by. Maybe I swallowed my pride and went back to an office, a call centre, a factory or a supermarket: anywhere I could get a job of some kind and regular money and they wouldn’t care that much about my qualifications. (Or is even that too much of a fantasy?) Did we have to give up our beloved dog though, because we’d both be out of the house for too long? Or sort of give her up? Give her to my parents? She’d have a decent life there, I suppose. All the same, I bet it broke my heart to leave her there and go spend my days in a workplace with idiots I probably hate.

Maybe I’m dead? Maybe she’s dead? We’re both dead? We’re ALL dead? Big nuclear war. BOOM. No more United Kingdom. Brexit-shmexit. All sorted.

Or, am I just about solvent now, Future Me, paying the bills and mortgage but miserable as fuck on a daily basis? Is my hatred of my work, my misery and bitterness and resentment, is all that badly straining my marriage?

*

A contract on which I was waiting and hoping would have offered considerable financial comfort. In December 2016 I was told it was not competitive and should begin around late January. Then it became competitive. Then they lost it. No contract.

Other things are not happening. Nothing is encouraging. The general economic outlook appears decidedly turbulent. There is an income of sorts but it comes in dribs and drabs and is nowhere near enough. Unsustainable.

Yes I look at jobs occasionally, feeling crushingly underqualified and out of touch for most, overtaken or even lapped by bright-faced smiley people ten years my junior. No, I can’t do that. No, I have no idea what that is. What have I done lately that’s anywhere near as impressive as that? Fucksake.

Now feels really hard, stressful, anxious. But tell me, buddy, Future Me, pal, April 2018 Me, mate: we get through it all ok, right? Don’t we? It’s not worth worrying quite this much about, is it? Is it?

Lots of love,

March 2017 Me.

Advertisements

little dreams of me

On the nearby mountain, or steep hill.  It’s a big peak at least. They call it a mountain and it’s called a mountain, but it isn’t really, you know, a mountain.  It’s not the Alps: rugged, snow-topped and majestic.  It’s Wales.  Pretty enough, but still just Wales.

It’s also besides the point.  I’m there anyway.  Perhaps I’m just sitting and worrying, or thinking. Or walking about.

When suddenly a plane appears, very low and very close.  It’s an old Nazi war plane. It’s quickly clear it’s in trouble, before crashing to a controlled, surprisingly unspectacular landing. I rush over to help, much to derision of other walkers and passers by who don’t seem moved in the slightest. ‘But the war is over!’ I argue, annoyed by them.

I find an old lady in the cockpit. I shake her gently by the shoulders and make sure she’s ok, then I back off.  She slowly climbs out of the cockpit and wanders off down the hill without so much as a thank you.

*

Standing at my childhood bedroom window, I see it’s wintry and bleak outside.  The whole landscape has changed in a possibly post-apocalyptic fashion.  It’s virtually blank now, white.  No back lawn, no forest, not a single tree.  Clusters of small white, feral beasts scuttle around, sniffing for scraps.  I drop a glass off window ledge and it smashes upon impact with the ground.  I lean out and look around the corner, hearing something loud and monstrous and massive.  I see the edge of what must be the expected biblical tsunami which rapidly engulfs everything: the building, the room, me. I wake up drenched in sweat.

*

I’m scared and nervous again about work, my finances, paying rent. Those parameters you’re used to seeing your bank balance being between, generally, month to month: they are ever shifting, down and down. My cushion, my safety net, is ever slender. Is it worth the worry, the pressure, the angst and the self-doubt? Should I seriously consider getting a job again? But I’m not very employable anymore, 4 and a half years out.  And a redundancy before that.  Should I at least try? Look? Even a part time thing to give some much needed cash injection?

Dreams are always more vivid on the nights of the week when she isn’t lying next to me.

*

In a mazy tall block, I’m being officiously controlled by a boss or a leader, or leaders.  He or she or they want to put us in individual physical boxes and push us down steep chutes to somewhere. Nobody knows where. There is urgency and panic and desperate need to escape. Which eventually I do, after a leap and a fall, and a guilty sense that I’m deserting colleagues. I’m running away, relieved, things around me fading, waking up.

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.

career coasters

The new year has seen me envisioning re-entering conventional workplaces again, in fact much like the old year did.  Perhaps it’s a symptom of panic as my cash resources begin to dwindle and I’m still not sure what’s going to happen over the next few months; how I’m going to make money.  Will I somehow miraculously fumble on as freelance?  Will I manage to get a job?  Will I have to compromise and get an awful low-paid job I truly hate?

(Thinking about the worst case scenario of eventually running out of money, failing to win any employment and moving home to my parents still makes me shudder, although I should be grateful for having that option. Many don’t.)

Either way, it’s brought me to thinking about conventional office workplaces again, and all that involves.  The less than savoury element was highlighted in my recent conversation with a bloke.

Our acquaintance was renewed around eighteen months ago after a break of around a decade.  We had studied together and been part of the same short-lived friendship group (at least for me) at university.  He’s now working for a public sector organisation in an office where I worked around 8 years ago.  It was a place where I endured a couple of the most frustrating stints of my working life (although there have been many) and was quite open about the fact I did literally nothing most days, frequently appealing for things to do.  I once rose from my desk, walked to a train station and went for a job interview in a neighbouring town.  Nobody really noticed or cared. The same people, moaning and not doing very much, are still there, my renewed acquaintance tells me.  He’s now embarking on a career change.

When you’re staring down a scary barrel and there are millions of unemployed across the land, it’s extremely difficult not to be at all bitter at this slightly older generation who are coasting in management roles, particularly in the largely unsackable public sector.  Roles usually befallen upon them thanks to little more than fortunate circumstance, rather than engineered through canny nous.  A public sector organisation grew at just the right time for their careers, thanks mainly to public coffers.  Here, have a team to hide behind. Often these people are dozy, oafish, charisma vacuums who are impossible to respect because it is impossible to tell exactly what they do.

Sure, I’m generalising a little, but not too much.  These are certainly not fictional characters and there are plenty of them.  Contemplating it too much isn’t healthy because you can easily tangle yourself up into a ball of seething spitting bitterness.  I haven’t even touched on gender pay differences: another very real, very unfair fact of the current career climate.

Yet you feel if they can continue to manipulate a system and do so well doing so discernibly little, sometimes without even trying, why can’t I? Why shouldn’t I be able to re-enter this game, maybe not take the piss to their level, but not do too much, not take it home with me?  Why can’t I still do what I want to do and enjoy doing outside of this “work” time?  Read, write, photograph, watch, walk, listen, drink good coffee and fine wine, live.

ok not knowing

This morning I took a rare, indulgent browse of this blog and scanned some posts from around a year ago.

All had a dour, fairly miserable, nervous tone about Christmas.  The walking into a lamppost thing was unfortunate and painful but I wouldn’t disagree now with anything written then.

Comparing year ago me with today me reveals marked changes.  Most significant is the fact that I am no longer as lonely and frustrated about humans in the most general sense.  There is now a special person who I am extremely fond of.  Oh go on then, who I love.  And, to paraphrase a romantic musical, that does quite considerably change stuff.

This year Christmas won’t be the same as last, because I’ll be with somebody.  Hopefully I shan’t be out drinking alone watching dour bottom of the table Premiership clashes or walking into lampposts.  Not that I can totally rule out those possibilities.

Indeed, the spirit of the loner remains and I doubt will ever leave.  I still regularly take solo trips to the cinema and walk alone with a camera for some distance.  I still hanker for a dog.  I still have many of the same professional frustrations, perhaps even more than a year ago.  I’m certainly in an even more uncertain professional place now, in that precarious blurry limbo between self-employment and unemployment, with little idea what the coming few months will hold.  I doubt I’m alone here.

But I’m also relaxed about everything; sporadically scared and fearful of the future, but a little more fatalistic.  Having a person who believes in you can help with that.

*

We took a cross-country roadtrip to visit her distant aunties this past weekend.  They are particularly close to her after she lost her mother several years ago, and her father a couple of years later.  The three sisters were very close.

It was a whirlwind weekend of different experiences, environments and people.  Much discussion, mostly about family and relationships.  A considerable amount about spirituality – it seems to me the need for such belief grows stronger with age.  Perhaps it gets harder with old age to admit that it might just be this life and no more.  I listened and smiled and learned the names of lots of dead people and disagreed with things in my head (anti-euthanasia, spirituality and reincarnation, three and a half thousand pounds on an operation for a dachshund).  I voiced nothing, remained polite, kept smiling.

After two days staying with one auntie we packed up.  Heading back west, we stopped to visit an old family friend at a chaotic but cosy house with large dogs and a deviant lingering cigarette scent throughout.  A 70 year old party girl had her 30ish year old affable goddaughter visiting, and our coincidental quartet worked agreeably well.  Two hours of weak champagne, bruschetta, tea, dogs and bawdy laughs, then we headed off again.

The final scene was a pretentious, dimly-lit ‘exclusive’ hotel where frantic James Bond scenes may have been filmed in the corridors.  There we met her mole-ish Scotland-based half-brother for discussions about their father’s estate.

It felt in turns like a film as we bickered loudly over SatNav directions and mock-fought at service stations, the glowing winter sun casting long shadows across car parks and motorways.  It struck me at one point like a specific film, 2009’s charming and funny Away We Go, where a young couple go on a north American road-trip looking for a place to live.

Though her employment seems more secure, my girlfriend is not particularly fixed to our current region; she’s open to the idea of exploring or moving away, however far.  Travel is particularly appealing at the moment but only a pipe dream.  I have little motivation to ‘work’ in the conventional sense of finding a regular office job – although that is exactly what I’m seeking out of pure obligation.

Finding each other in 2012 was enough.  Hopefully there will be more discoveries in 2013 and hopefully they will be equally pleasurable and not lampposts to the forehead.  Not knowing is kind of ok for now.

plumbing depths

I was waiting for her, not unusually.  She’d offered me a lift to the station but was still faffing with various things.  For something to do I embarked on washing up the breakfast things, filling the cafetiere with hot soapy water before casually tossing in some cutlery, new cutlery she’d given me as a birthday present the day before, stainless steel and heavy.  A knife punched its way clean through the base of the glass beaker, creating a neat hole in the corner.  I swore.

The day before had been one of my best birthdays as an adult.  The year before I’d visited Legoland with my nephew, his parents and both sets of grandparents.  We share a birthday and I was doing nothing else.  In previous years I had taken myself away somewhere, so as not to sit in a flat navelgazing about my stunted lonely life, but failing to avoid the thought patterns.  This year she was there.  She made breakfast and offered gifts and we went for a drive out of town towards the mountains, settling in a small town café bookshop.  Then we returned to the city and went to a local pub for dinner.

Smashing the cafetiere added to tension that had built up, a tension I couldn’t entirely free myself from even the day before.  This tension was because I was heading to London for an event which would also be attended by my main client, a colossal tit who I have come to demonise on these pages, but also a man whose medium-sized business had kept me solvent for the past three years.

The FuckThesePricks decision I thought I had made a couple of weeks ago; now it was time to follow through.  I had to do this.

My intention was simply to make him aware that I wasn’t scared to walk away from him and his business.  I was going to figuratively open a door and ask him if he wanted me Out, because being In wasn’t very comfortable or nice, and hadn’t been for a while.

Walking along the leaf thick pavements towards the venue I almost hoped he wouldn’t be there so I could win a reprieve and not have to go through with this.  Confrontation isn’t a natural strength of mine, particularly not face-to-face with a hugely deluded man of monstrous ego, a man many probably say negative things about, but rarely to.

So my heart sank upon entering the lobby and seeing that, amongst a sea of suits picking at a buffet, there was his distinctive bald pate, framed by those silver flecks.  It sank in the same way it sank whenever I saw his name in my inbox or on my phone.

Oh shit.  He was here.  I would have to do this.  My sphincter quivered slightly.  Stop it.  Man the fuck up.  It was going to be hard and scary but necessary.  In person would have more impact than an email or a phone call; it would be transparent.

I waited until the mid-afternoon break in proceedings before sidling up and integrating myself in his chat with a cool, good-looking young guy.  He said hello, slightly distractedly?  Offered one of his limp handshakes.  Then he barely offered me any eye-contact.  Was he slightly nervous, aware that his behaviour and that of his staff hadn’t been brilliant towards me of late?  The cool young guy excused himself to go for a cigarette and I heard a drum roll in my head.

If anything it’s possible I laboured my points a little too hard and was at pains to say I disagreed, I found him unpredictable, his colleagues hard to work with, I didn’t want to work with a bunch of guys who thought I was a prick.  At that last point, a shadow of a smile passed over his face, as if acknowledging this was a truth but for the first time seeing it from my perspective. He generally seemed stunned and his replies were weak.  People started filtering back into the main room and we agreed to pick this up when I was going to visit them the following week.  Without a proper parting gesture we turned in separate directions.  My heart was beating fast and I downed two glasses of juice before re-entering the room.

Fuck shit fuck bollocks.  What had I done?

The following day around noon an email dropped into my inbox alongside his name, marked with High Importance, the subject line: our chat. It began  Further to my “talking to”  yesterday.. and went on to explain a planned change in relationship, the full details of which remain to be seen.  The upshot is that I now need to look elsewhere for the majority of my income and I have not the faintest clue what is going to happen.  A large part of me wants to run away and go travelling, like I did when I couldn’t get a job around my 25th birthday.

I was having a new shower fitted when the email arrived.  After reading it several times and sharing it with my girlfriend, I chatted with my plumber.  He’s a good, bold, loud, geezery guy who I get along well with.  Like me, he’s a one-man band, and like me he’s also been subjected to difficult clients.  We spoke about life and work and difficulties at length.  We talked of how people perceive you or might try to sully your name to others if you disagree with them.  How some can naturally be more passive and agreeable, and get riled less by such things.  It wasn’t a chat you’d usually expect to have with your plumber.

I thought too again about how I’ve generally failed to win people over, both professionally and up until very recently, personally.  How people could glance at all the stuff at my CV and quite legitimately question how and why I haven’t stayed anywhere for very long.  Is he hard to get on with?  He can’t be a team player?  Probably a bit of a risk.

It’s the fear and the nerves which are the most difficult to manage, as well as the tedious, endlessly disappointing necessity to earn money.  While it’s liberating to know I won’t have that man’s name constantly infecting my inbox and social feeds, there’s the fear of not finding anything else.  If, a few months from now, I have nothing sustainable, then it will look a brave but stupid act.

At semi-dramatic, unsettling times like this pop music can be powerful.  Selecting the right sort of light track with quirky lyrics on your iPod can offer a rejuvenating “it’s-all-bollocks-anyway” type of perspective.  You can smile to yourself in the street like a simpleton or slump to your knees in tears.

For now I’ll try the smiling thing.

And investing in platitudes like “I’m sure it’ll work itself out”, “something will come along”, etc.

And hoping.

Actually no, hold me.

Sob.

 

in decision

Things have been unsteady on the work front recently.  I’ve been unsure what is happening with my main client, and remain so.  I’ve been a malleable bag of nerves.  I’ve been angry and glum and scared and bitter and resigned and hateful.

A couple of weeks ago I thought a decision had finally been made.  Fuck these pricks now, I eloquently decided, really.  They, and particularly he, had done it this time.  That was it.  I was better than this now, I told myself.  I like myself more than to keep putting myself through this, subjecting myself to him.  So I’d be taking a big risk, throwing huge caution to the proverbial wind if I burnt bridges and told him where to go – his medium sized business has sustained my solo operation for the best part of three years now.  It provides my financial backbone, but if he’s making me so miserable, why should I keep it going?

Because it’s money and I don’t know what else I’d do.  Jobs aren’t easy to come by, nor are clients as reliable (to date), and I don’t want to be poor or have to begin to make lifestyle compromises.

They had recently hired another freelance marketing communications person; a prettier, blonder, more female, cheaper, less jaded version of me.  (In all fairness she is a competent, well-written, perfectly pleasant young mum who speaks northern English better than me, and is hot).  They were delegating more and more work her way.  Less and less work my way.  Everything she provided was wonderful off the bat.  Everything I provided was attacked and ripped apart.  They had grown even more unpleasant and unreasonable and harder than ever to work with.

So I thought: Fuck These Pricks.  That’s it.  I would feel immensely liberated to know I would never see that one name in an inbox ever again.  Especially at 11.30pm on a Friday night, saying something ridiculous or totally pointless, which I am inexplicably unable to ignore.  (My brother recently said it sounds like I have the worst of both worlds, before prescribing some typical brotherly advice; advice which may work great if he is advising a duplicate version of himself).

Anyhow, that was a couple of weeks ago now and not much has changed – except my ever diminishing workload, more indicators of their confidence lost in me, and the confidence grown in my fellow freelancer.  She has the measure of me now, a couple more large bites and she’d swallow me altogether.

In the immediate aftermath of FuckThesePricks I did apply for real jobs, and luckily bagged a short stint of freelance back on a university campus.  It’s debatable whether that helped or hindered my current outlook.  I was doing interesting academic research copywriting which engaged me, educated me.  I was working around more pleasant folk with less bulbous egos, sentient beings, nicer people from the south of Britain with whom I could effectively communicate.  It served to highlight and exaggerate what a total raging man-child buffoon my main client is, how equally dense, slovenly and not terribly pleasant his staff are.  I briefly enjoyed my work.

But it was only ever going to be a short term thing, and now everything has quietened again.

I sought counsel from business associates and occasional partners who I do rate and like.  Their basic advice was that by being small you are also nimble, you have no overheads or children or major responsibilities, so sit tight and don’t seek full-time job again.  You don’t know how you might react to that after having such independence for so long; you might regret it.

Having faith and needing to have faith that “things will be ok” can be a struggle, particularly if you are naturally risk averse.  Blindly trusting that stuff will somehow work out produces nerves.  It’s impossible not to ask “but what if it doesn’t?” and sigh like you sigh in the face of any lazy platitude.

I find some kind of solace in knowing professional paths are rarely simple; much is down to chance / nepotism / accident, we all hit troughs and, maybe not quite “peaks” as such, but still fairly steady inclines too, and that’s all ok. We’d probably get even more bored otherwise. It could be that our caveman brains are wired to only cope with straighter paths, and that’s is why hilly unpredictable tracks can feel so tough.

alternative reality

My CV exists online in various places and various states, a number of them probably quite outdated.  I don’t mind much; most of the spammy recruitment agency emails go straight to a junk file and the telephone calls are infrequent.  When I do receive a call it’s usually from somebody who wants to be my mate and who offends me with their simplicity to the extent I’m abrupt and not very nice.  I feel it’s better for everyone that way.  Nobody’s time is wasted on empty niceties.

Yesterday though, I received a call from a middle-aged woman and I let her speak.  She sounded a little nervous, the kind who doesn’t expect to be allowed to speak at length without getting interrupted.  So when she does have a free run she gets nervous and speaks herself down blind alleys.  I sort of empathised.  I also let her speak because I wasn’t too busy and, it transpired, what she was talking about actually sounded like it could potentially be of interest.

That was another thing.  They usually didn’t say interesting things.

A full-time permanent role which actually didn’t sound too dull.  An unspectacular salary I’d hope to negotiate up a little.  Suddenly I was flung into an alternative new life of a career; purpose and ambition and people and the egotistical “busyness” I so revile.  Would it be so bad?  Wildly premature thoughts, clearly, but you can’t help them.  Like after a good first date, of which I dimly remember one or two, once upon a time.

Despite investing a lot of time and a small bit of cash in a new venture – a thing I enjoy doing, it’s unsurprisingly not showing any signs of flowering at all.  Meanwhile the main breadwinning activity continues to shrink, my final supplementary client looking like fading out in the coming months, leaving all my eggs firmly in the one basket.

From time to time I engage in idle thoughts of a conventional career: an office, new relationships, colleagues I’d see and be irritated by every day.  Perhaps I wouldn’t really mind it if it was something that would engage me, stuff to get my teeth into, new subjects to learn about in a new industry.  I feel increasingly less towards a technology space which has outgrown me, not that I was ever wildly passionate about it in the first place.  It was better a few years ago when my knowledge was specialised and relevant, but now it feels like there’s too much to know, and everyone has an opinion anyway.  Like your secret favourite cult band had made it mainstream and was now boring.

While being standoffish and acting like I neither needed or was that interested in what the lady on the telephone was talking about, I felt myself getting seduced by the idea.

Just think about it: A Life!  Having a routine.  Not sitting on your flat on your own all day.  Not “medium filter coffee to have in please…   little space for milk…   there you go, thanks a lot” ..being the only thing you say in real life to another person on most days.  The potential to win recognition from people you might even respect.  The ability to completely disconnect for an evening, a weekend, a week.  It would be a more interesting life, wouldn’t it?

But slow down, brain.  Try not to ever hope.  You’ve learned that now.  Hoping is a horribly dangerous business which virtually always ends in disappointment for you.  This lady on the phone might think you’re a prick, your CV might not make the cut, an interview panel might think you’re underqualified or an unmanageable risk.  It’s massively likely that there will be shinier, more assured candidates who smile easily and plainly look better suited.  The same type who you constantly lost out to in your mid-twenties when performing reasonably well throughout countless interviews.   No.  You’ve no chance.

Was it really *you* anyway, anymore?  That imagined new lifestyle; having bosses?  Wouldn’t you flounder and crack under expectations and pressures, quickly grow bitter and resentful?  It would only be more interesting for a brief period before it became habitual, boring, a thing to despise.  Wouldn’t you miss all of that navelgazing time you had and complained about having but sort of liked as well?

If everything just carries on as it is, with the one main client and work which enables you to maintain this generally lazy, undemanding and wholly unsatisfying lifestyle, that’ll be fine too, won’t it?  You’ll just be opening yourself up to another fall otherwise.

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.

mission improbable

You finished a chapter of your book, sipped from a mug of coffee and looked around you in one of the many coffee shops where you hang out, and you wondered if you weren’t bored of all this now, if you didn’t genuinely desire a sense of mission and purpose now, if you were ready to properly try again.

To try at what, you weren’t sure.  But something.  A proper job with people.  This was getting a little boring now, wasn’t it?  It wasn’t like you didn’t do this on most lunch breaks when you had a regular job.  And it’s less enjoyable because you know you’re not exactly taking a break from work; you’re using it to fill time because you haven’t got much work.  To wedge in a block of time which isn’t spent at your desk or wandering aimlessly.  Because you’re just spending plenty of time being worried about a lack of phone calls and email traffic which seems to be dwindling in direct correlation to the leaves on the trees.  Your biggest sense of mission and purpose is getting a coffee and a comfy seat in which to read a book.

The more it goes on, the more phone calls which go unanswered, the emails which go unreplied, the more you pointlessly wail into the internet; the more you feel a like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.  Am I actually dead?  The one sometime client who reassures you with a swift acknowledgement is now based in California and, alas, in no position to offer work or employment.

But even when you get work you resent it: the drone of that painfully erratic main client, the writing and rewriting about the same fucking software.

Aren’t you capable of a tiny bit more?  Isn’t it time to get over that fear of knockbacks, rejections, and be brave again?  Recapture that early to mid-twenties vitality and ambition.  Shrug off the fact that it’s still cold outside and jobs aren’t easy to come by, particularly without connections, without belief or ability to sell yourself.

Regular employment still casually dangles there in the background, often unspoken, unattractive in its overbearing ability to control and seize your independence, yet appealing in its promise of returning normality, and redemption for permanently feeling like a cheat.

It’s not as easy as that though.  And say you found something which did initially interest you.  The chances are that you’d quickly resent it, tire of it, develop an unhealthy disrespect of your bosses and colleagues.

So this is still the easiest option for lazy idiots like you.  And it could just be another phase anyway.  You’ll forget about this twitchiness and trying to do something else if work suddenly picks up, if your patience-testing key client stops ignoring you in borderline rude fashion.  Just go on as before.  But what if it doesn’t and into November, towards Christmas, your invoices grow ever-more paltry?  At least you booked no New Year break this year.  Not quite confident enough.

That itchy eighteen month point is approaching too.  Your life tends to be marked in eighteen month periods: stints of time in an employment or dwelling, after which you get restless.  Eighteen months is enough to give most things when you have no obligation or responsibilities.  After eighteen months it’s time to do something different.

It’ll soon be eighteen months since you moved back here.  Around two and a half years spent working like this.  You still like your flat and the city where you live – even if you’re indifferent to many of its residents.  This dreary routine though.  Can’t you change that?  Do you really want to carry on doing what you’re doing?

Not much.

Then change it, like you tell other people.  It can be done.

How, genius?

Uhm.. not sure.  Usually means committing to something, doesn’t it?  Investing hope?

Hope?  That thing that sneers and laughs and shits in your face, leaving you on your knees, disgusted at your pathetic romanticism.

Yeah.

Fuck that then.