unfriendly rivalry

There’s this guy, right. Let’s call him Mike. We’re competitors of roughly the same age. We work and live in the same city and we’re originally from a similar neck of the woods about an hour and a half away. He has more experience and is WAY more successful than me. Rightly so. In fact, I probably don’t even register as a competitor to Mike. But I go through small phases of obsessing about him and his riches. I’m not proud of it.

Mike outright ignores me every single time our paths cross, whether we are working shoulder to shoulder or sitting in close proximity working at laptops: never a glance, a faint nod, certainly never a word. He doesn’t seem to actively sneer or disdain me as one of his allies does when his face unavoidably confronts mine; more a simple quiet indifference, a casual obliviousness effortlessly sustained over several years. I’m not even sure what his voice sounds like.

Everyone in the city loves Mike, worships him, kisses his feet. Whenever there’s an online request for such services in a Facebook group, it’s Mike’s name you will always see recommended the most in the comments section. People can’t speak highly enough of him. He has the highest profile, the most followers, the best contacts, the biggest network. This is in no small part because he was essentially incubated by The Large / only media publisher in the city. It’s effectively state news here; there is only one outlet. Our local media landscape is not healthy or competitive.

For a few early career years it seems Mike was a general office dogsbody who concentrated on working up his skills and Twitter followers before being set free to go freelance. In that time he also built great contacts with important media folk and with all the big PR agencies in the city, who knew he has a direct route back to the only big media outlet. He holds enviable cards.

Annoyingly, Mike is great at what he does. There is no denying this, and I suppose it’s why the whole city appears to approach climax at the mere mention of his name. As far as I can see it is not for his overflowing charisma and brilliant jokes. Although many have insisted to me that he’s a nice guy and professionalism orders me to politely smile and nod.  (Oh, right. Is he? Not to me he isn’t, so… you know, forgive me for thinking he’s a smug prick).

That said, I’m sure he probably is a nice bloke to his clients and partners. I hated seeing an indication that he liked dogs, which as a dog-lover myself forced me to concede something about him. That he couldn’t be a total prick? I don’t know. I’m not sure exactly what. But I would have preferred if he hated dogs or was at least as indifferent to them as he is to me.

Mike is also sort of an alien. One time a couple of years back we were sitting next to each other, working at a football match. It was properly pissing down. I was wearing full waterproof gear, over-trousers, jacket and hood. I was still getting soaked to the bone, rain trickling down my wrists, seeping through the ineffective trousers. A couple of feet away he sat there, just in a jacket and jeans, no hood. Somehow he did not appear to be getting wet. Rain just bounced off him, visibly repelled by his dry wiry hair and general excellence. It appeared that Mike was innately waterproof, weirdly ‘other’.

He drives a nice new big white BMW, almost certainly gets tip-offs from media contacts about breaking news stories, knows and is probably highly respected by our industry peers working for big agencies, gets lucrative contracts with the large organisations. You will always see the back of his head in grainy smartphone pictures at award ceremonies, at conferences or events. And if it’s not him, it’ll be someone you know is a close ally of his, people you suspect he has referred because he’s busy or can’t be bothered.

We were working at a thing recently, the only two of our kind at the thing, shoulder to shoulder, pointing lenses. The people all looked and smiled down his lens of course, not knowing or caring who the hell I was. Mike was the Main Guy who everyone knew and this was his territory. He was all smooth-moving, elegant and waterproof. I was the bumbling interloper, the awkward fraud, the clumsy imposter. He was a few seconds late for one of the key moments which punctuated the event and a main organiser delayed proceedings, visibly flustered by his absence. “Where’s…  where’s Mike?” She vaguely appealed to me. Other people looked for him too, twitchy. I shrugged. Throughout the course of the event we were there in the middle of it, and away from it working at laptops a few feet away. We amiably spoke one-to-one with the person sitting between us. Between me and him though, as ever, not a glance, a nod, a word.  His pictures were everywhere the next day. Mine were nowhere.

Heading back to our cars in the car park afterwards, he was walking with an older gentleman, as I neared.  He turned to look back over his shoulder, saw it was me and instantly looked away as if to try and conceal the fact he had looked and seen me. Two minutes later I followed his shiny white BMW out of the car park in my much inferior car.

you quietly hate him

There’s this guy, right. Let’s call him Des. Now he’s a nice enough bloke in person, around your age, really amiable, approachable and chilled. He exudes ‘easygoing’ niceness.  Deep down you kind of hate Des.

This is his first full year doing something which you’ve been working at for a few years now. Des has waltzed in and seemingly made more of a success of it than you.

Des’s work isn’t better than yours. The agency he works for is one that plenty of people in the industry sort of hate, or at least disapprove of. They sell work at a much lower price than your agency sells work. Therefore his work is frequently used and yours very rarely is. It’s galling to see, especially when his work is not all that great. Des usually at least gets some payment for inferior work, even if it is small, and you consistently get nothing.

How can this not grate? It grates. It really fucking grates.

This would matter less if you were more ‘strong and stable’ in your cashflow and finances. But you are not at all. You haven’t been for years and can’t foresee a time when that will change, despite promises of the Theresamaytron bot. Money is your biggest worry, as it is for most people. Not many people think they have enough money, wherever they sit in the payscale. You appreciate you have much to be grateful for in the grand scheme of things but it would be an enormous weight lifted to not worry about paying bills every month, to not overthink every unnecessary pound spent on common affordable luxuries like booze and coffee.

The devaluation of creative work not an unusual thing but it feels more transparent at the moment. So many borderline mercenary online platforms are available. Work is offered for increasingly cheap rates via a greater number of intermediaries, all of whom take a cut. And people are willing to accept less money for their efforts, particularly if it is not a full time occupation, if it is merely a nice supplement to a full time job. And if people are desperate for something, anything, they will gladly take what they can get. There is nothing to prevent people doing this, but it grates like hell when you see it repeatedly working against you. It reflects how people / media owners don’t care much for quality, they just want the stuff.

Anyway. Back to Des. Another thing that grates about Des is how he’s SUCH a busy prick online. You know those people who, after a while, come to dominate the experience of a social feed?  Under every other Instagram post you see ‘liked by Des’. Every new profile you find which is interesting is ‘followed by Des’ because Des apparently follows everyone who has ever had an internet account. Fuck off Des you fucking prick! Is Instagram literally ALL you do?  And you can’t unfollow or block Des because he’d probably know and you’ll see him again soon and it would be awkward. (Although you did unfollow him on Facebook). Fucking shut up, mate.

“Oh, hello mate” you’ll fake cheerfully say the next time you see Des. “How are you?” (you fucking likable prick).

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.

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.

——

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.

earnings and insurance

I enjoy my work when it feels like it’s working.

When it’s less busy then naturally you’re nervous and you have to deal with that. Some days you’re able to sensibly rationalise and it’s all ok. Other days you might catastrophise and beat yourself up until you’re a sobbing mess. Such is the lot of a self-employed person.

Another big thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is not making much money. What we earn, how much money we make over the course of a year: it’s a subject people don’t tend to be that open about. It’s highly personal and reflects notions of ‘success’, self-worth and ego.  My bank balances seem to indicate that I do reasonably fine week to week and month to month. I am careful and conservative with my cash.

But when it comes to calculating net profits, balancing against all the expenses – and sometimes my expenses are quite high due to expensive equipment – it can be embarrassing. Is that… is that it? Really? Did I do something wrong?  Only I was expecting it to be a bit more. But that number looks pathetic, like I might be a new graduate still living at home with my parents.

It would be ok if that was the case. But I’ll be 36 this year and am now some way down the long road to my first mortgage.  This is not something I could have achieved on my own, with my crazily fluctuating self-employed earnings. Marrying someone with a steady salary who has not so long ago lost her parents and sold her family home, albeit splitting it several ways: that made it possible.

If all goes well and to plan and we get a house with more space, we might start thinking about reproduction. First we will think about a dog, (not reproducing one, just buying one). But we might think about reproducing a human, if all bodily things function as they should, which they may not. You never know, do you?  But that has me thinking about responsibilities and earnings. Is it ok to carry on doing what I am doing and by and large it being ok, but getting to the end of a tax year and looking at my finances and being faintly embarrassed by my paltry profits? Is it enough?

I look sideways at people in the street in this city which floats along in its bumbling semi-crooked bubble of public sector cash, and I know that there are hundreds of people my age who are doubling, more than doubling my annual earnings.  There are loads of pleasant competent people earning twice as much as me, but probably working and worrying half as hard. And some of them might not be that competent.  It grates. There are people sitting in government and university clerical jobs with infinitely more protection if bad shit happens.

Wife and I were looking at scary grown-up things like income protection, life insurance, mortgage cover. I asked some steadily employed friends what cover they had and in comparison I felt massively exposed, adrift on my own as a sole trader. Sure I can pay for similar cover, but these things are not at all cheap, particularly when added to a hefty new mortgage commitment.

It’s another big neurosis. In reality I am unlikely to suddenly think ‘YES, now I will become a civil servant or get some other sensible job!’ In reality don’t think I could get such a job now. I probably look like a flighty risk on paper. But still, you keep looking sideways at people and thinking how much less you have, how much more (you think) they have.

It’s the old comparing yourself with others thing, not being able to appreciate what you have, with a dash of life not being fair thrown in. You can try to sensibly rationalise, or you can descend into that pit of uncontrollably sobbing what-ifs? Which end you tilt towards depends on the weather in your head.

swallowing pride

There has been significant swallowing of pride in recent weeks.  None of it has tasted nice.

I am quite a proud person.  Fiercely independent from quite a young age, I am more disposed to instinctively decline all offers of help than to accept them.  I can manage fine, thank you.  I have always been like a belligerent old person and find it difficult to accept help.  Everybody is essentially on their own.  I have been on my own a lot; I spent the majority of my twenties alone and largely miserable; I should be able to cope.

This is a ‘young person’ thing to think, I am growing to believe – although possibly in an attempt to defend myself.  Everybody needs help.  Success is usually promoted by help, support, nepotism, or somebody helping somebody out, somebody influential believing.

Following a short break away with them and charitably paid for by them (already awkward), I finally accepted the offer of a sizable loan from my wonderful parents.  The Bank of Middle Class Mum and Dad helped me out, which is brilliant but means I am no better than the posh little rich kids upon whom I sneer.

At the weekend, Girlfriend and I took a long road trip to south Devon and a small town in which, my extensive research revealed, there was a store with the best available deal on camera equipment.  It was still harrowingly expensive (multi thousands; you could buy an ok car).  It not being my money but briefly being my money (a flicker of something reckless, a tempting disappearance around the world); that sort of made it worse.   Still, deep breath..  and it was done.  Now I must try to work doubly hard in order to make it worth something, to achieve something I really badly want to achieve.  Although that won’t happen immediately.

Money is still a huge and stressful issue, with that impending big December celebration and all its connotations of stupid expense.  Money is still not being generated in any significant amount and this is deeply worrying.  I sit at my desk and do things and am vaguely productive, but no money comes in and so I worry.  Everything is scary and hard.

It often surprises me how things and people in life can come back around when you think they are gone forever.  In the summers between years studying at university I had two stints in a marketing call centre doing telephone market research surveys.  It was reasonable student work.  I’d certainly had worse (steelworks factory, door-to-door double glazing, selling vacuum cleaners).

This company is still going, doing roughly the same sort of thing.  It’s within walking distance from my flat.  It offers flexible shift patterns.  I am quite desperate for money.  I went up there for a brief chat with a nervous, whispy woman and it seems that next week I could resume there after a hiatus of about twelve years.

This is another borderline indigestible ball of pride to swallow.  It brutally underlines how my career path has not developed.  I will try to act cool and like I don’t care.  ‘Means to an end…’ and just weep quietly in the toilets.

Or…

Or is it a steep, brave, noble, courageous step down, in the hope of taking another back up?

Yes, let’s take that view.  I am SO not a total loser.  Let’s hope, and try to worry less, and try to squeeze every last hour out of the day so I can buy more ephemeral plastic for my already grossly over-toyed niece and nephew at Christmas.

More than that, let’s try to achieve something I really badly want to achieve: working on my own terms and actually enjoying it.  That’s worth a fight, difficulty, some nasty balls of pride to swallow.  Let’s hope.

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.

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.