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).

when worry wains

Oh hello, how you doing? Good weekend? Mine?  Well yes actually, this May bank holiday weekend was excellent because we did very little indeed.  And I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to talk about my weekend because look, few hundred more words down there.

When a guy in the pool mentioned the upcoming bank holiday I was annoyed. Really? There’s another bank holiday? We only just had Easter. I was mainly annoyed because bank holidays and weekends don’t tend to mean as much to me as they might to those in regular employment. I still feel the press to work, to go and sit at my desk if I’m not out of the house working. And because the bank holiday would present yet another obstacle to me being paid by various clients.

Getting paid remains one of the most infuriating things about freelance life. A job is never over when you have delivered the work. The job is only ever over when you see the money in your bank account, and sometimes not even then. Between those two things there can be weeks and months, endless emails and phone calls politely prompting and reminding with appropriate levels of levity and seriousness. It is a battle to maintain tight-lipped professionalism when conducting a simple online transaction can be the simplest thing in the world, and when these are never monstrously large sums.  Naturally they matter to me though. I make very little money and every few pounds matters to me.

It is this worry and stress about getting paid and not getting paid which you live with, day to day, your mental climate dictated by what those numbers in your bank accounts say, how many digits long they are, how much they are likely to plummet with further outgoings, bills, monthly business expenses, mortgage payments. They impact your esteem and ego. Having recently calculated your annual income, it is pathetic, paltry, embarrassing. You are plainly not successful.

And yet here you are, existing actually quite nicely. How does that work? You like your lifestyle, your house, your wife, your dog, your walks. Outside of worrying about money and work, the car screwing up, scrimping a bit, never going on holiday, most other things are all pretty good thanks.

-But do I deserve this? Have I earned it?

Please shut that shit up right now brain, just for a moment, just for a weekend. Relax and enjoy what you have.

Nobody said that outside my brain. It was something that seeped in gradually as we sat there in our quite nice conservatory, reading our books and drinking tea, rain flecking the windows, clouds flying overhead, the dog grumbling and sighing on the floor. Simple pleasures. We could have been 10, 20, 40 years older. But we are certainly not young-young now.

Although that itself presented the topic of discussion which forever bubbles away under the surface. Children.

Do we want them? The selfish knee-jerk rationale for ‘certainly not now anyway’ is my perpetual floundering sense of worry about work and finances. Bringing anything else into that equation would probably send me spiralling towards nervous breakdown, or at least more consistent fear and self-loathing. Either way, it would not be good. Would it?

Although a flipside might be that it occupies me better and makes me feel like I do have a purpose and reason and I am not an entirely useless semi-unemployed piece of shit. (Unless I am entirely useless at it, which is possible). It could also be ok to flexibly work around. We could work it out. Could we?

But we are happyish now, with this, with us, our fur baby down there. This is ok. It would all be terrifying, and who knows if we even could have kids? 40 is now closer than 30. We are not exactly in the bloom of youth.

You live with a dark premonition of profound regret in later life. Isolation too, having no family and nobody around you. In later years you might see your extended family – niece, nephew, brother – maybe once or twice a year at best? So, no support, nobody who really gives a shit in a country with a massive ageing population and an NHS which could by then be fully disintegrated. And what if one of us dies much earlier than the other?

We had those discussions, as we do. They come and go at almost tidal intervals. Mostly though we enjoyed the house, the rain, the dog, our books, pockets of peaceful unoccupied space in our brains usually occupied by worry and stress, Mozart filtering through from the other room, still somehow feeling faintly fake (is this really our life now?) but fuckit, day bleeding slowly into night, just being there together and not doing much. The dog groaned loud and long, turned over. We both looked at her, the beautiful embodiment of calming therapy, then at each other, smiled. For a time it was peaceful and meditative, to be cherished.

Worry will come back, of course it will. Stress, anxiety, nerves, all that; you can’t keep them at bay indefinitely. But you can effectively keep it at arm’s length for a time. It turns out, surprisingly, in the right circumstances you actually can.

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.

being good enough

Not being good enough is a delicate nerve for me right now. Sure, it probably is for you too. For most people even. (Not for Donald Trump).

That sense of not quite cutting it, not being up to a standard, and it being told to you or even gently suggested to you: that burns. It burns deeply for me for a few reasons. The giant elephant in the room of my lonely consciousness never lets me forget I am a disappointment, first and foremost to myself.

I had opportunities, I have a brain, I had a fairly middle class upbringing, an able healthy body, regular social skills. My current age is 36 and I am struggling to scrape a minimum wage level income. I am never sure what lies ahead. I should be better than this now. I should be able to provide and support a small unit. I can’t accept what I perceive as a lack of success or achievement or stability. It disgusts me.

Sometimes it’s attributed (by me) to not ‘playing the game’, brown nosing as I should, seeking out affiliates or mentors, not explicitly going out and seeking approval. This feels lazy, like I think I’m some stylish maverick renegade. Which I am not.

Other times, and it’s as lazy as it ever was to express it on these pages, as I have done countless times, but I do not think my brother is devoid of influence. As kids he was always miles better at everything, being two and a half years older. And he gloried in his superiority, revelled in it, figuratively pushed my face into the dirt whenever the chance arose. I could never say or do anything in response to make any impression. My existence felt laughably trivial, and to an extent still does. He lunches with high powered politicians for his work, reads big historical tomes for pleasure, thinks he has the measure of everyone’s amusingly simplistic political stance within seconds, views himself as apolitical. I grew up knowing that nothing I could do would ever compare to his achievements. And it hasn’t. It feels like I haven’t cruised at a steady altitude around his atmosphere. I’ve scudded and scuffed right along the bottom, like someone struggling to land a parachute in a gale.

When it’s reasonably suggested to me by colleagues that I might not be up to a job, there are other better options, naturally it chafes. (Fuck you, man! Who are you to say I’m not… not… no, hang on. Wait there. Yeah, ok that makes sense actually). It takes me back. They’re right, of course. I am shit, especially compared to those other better people. I will always be shit. I have always fumbled along, eschewing further official qualifications, proper training, even much advice. I continue to make it up as I go along.

And I know we all do this to greater or lesser extents. ‘Fake it till you make it’ etc. But still. Look at me, 36 and not a fucking clue where I’m going. How I’ve stumbled along to this point with a good house, nice supportive wife and hugely therapeutic dog I have no idea. It’s totally unjust and I do not deserve it.

What IS being good enough?

Will I ever feel like I do deserve it? What is being good enough anyway?  Being good enough to me is, I suppose, having some security in your income and future, knowing you are roughly set, and that you’re consistently working hard, day-to-day – even if you hate what you’re doing while you’re doing it. At least you’re producing and contributing with meaning and getting reasonably paid for it. You can live with yourself at the end of the day if you’re doing that. You’re not sitting on your arse staring anxiously into the internet for too many hours a day.  But if you haven’t done that, if you haven’t done much of any value or worth or profit, if you have stared anxiously into the internet for too many hours of the day, if you have spent far too long composing yet another whiney wibbly poor-me post for your dickhead anonymous blog thing, and then you go to sit down on the sofa at the end of the day, you feel like a total goodfornothing useless piece of shit.

Strong discipline and high volume. That’s what is demonstrated by people achieving professional success, whatever their line. I have discipline and I can work hard enough to generate volume. But it’s never structured. It’s never consistent. It’s always bobbly and littered with frustrating ruts.  I wonder if I am just a little too lazy, just a little too ready to make a coffee, read a book, walk the dog a little longer than I should, hope I get an email or a call, trust in a turn of luck.

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.

bludgeoning through

Freelance life. It comes as a surprise that it’s still a struggle sometimes, almost seven years down the line. Surely I should have acclimatised by now?

When it comes to the ebb and flow of work, the tapering off is still tough. Things aren’t at all bad at the moment. They are indeed ‘ticking over’. There’s stuff on the horizon, an engaging variety of work, a pipeline of sorts, though never a hugely reliable one. There are a number of chunkyish payments outstanding.  I need not feel too stressed, or as stressed as I have been in recent years.

And I’m not stressed as such. More confused, discombobulated, resentful of feeling a bit bored and not busy enough; perpetually frustrated by what I consider to be a lack of recognition and general unfairness; a bit lost.

I often work unsociable hours, evenings and weekends (albeit usually more out of passion and hope than rational profit) so I shouldn’t feel all that bad about taking my foot off the accelerator a bit during the week, about not sitting at a desk peering into the internet and over-comparing myself with apparently more successful people.

I shouldn’t but I do.

My conscience is threatened somehow when it doesn’t feel adequately occupied. What more could I, should I be doing? Don’t be lazy. Set your own agenda. Work produce work create work update work upkeep work.

You know as a self-employed person, you often have to work twice as hard to make half as much as a comparably aged and skilled civil servant. Or that’s what it can feel like anyway, seeing them mooch idly around town on lunchbreaks, probably during a day of meetings when they sitting around boardroom tables not saying much.

The other perpetual struggle is how isolated and solitary it is, working for yourself all the time; the lack of human contact and real world conversations, the loneliness. I always think to myself that I’m better equipped than most, with my total loner background and general misanthropic outlook. But still, it can be a challenge. We’re designed to want to interact, and when a dull week sags along without much by way of human punctuation it all feels rather dull. Maybe a dog would help.

At the moment, rediscovering the incredible early 1970s’  songwriting talent of Cat Stevens and Harry Nilsson is helping. Music of that era produced a beautifully unique, period style of whimsical uplifting melancholy. My Dad was a fan of Harry Nilsson and still has old vinyls, so I was familiar with some of his material, but Cat Stevens was only discovered after enjoying his soundtrack to the brilliant 1971 film Harold and Maude on Netflix. Spotify then provided all the related music that exists. We are ridiculously lucky to live in times when all this stuff is available on tap.

With any luck the dog might not be too far off though. Terrifyingly, we had an offer accepted on a house a couple of weeks ago, which would allow us to get a dog. But we are totally in the dark about timescales and the pessimist in me thinks it’ll probably be horribly protracted for at least 6 months and ultimately fall through altogether.

Exciting though, the prospect of not living in a flat for the first time in my adult life, aged 35. No way I could’ve entertained a mortgage alone of course, on my measly net profits. My key piece of first time property-buying advice would be: if you possibly can, marry someone with dead parents and considerably more money than you.

Just a mild whinge then, this conversational blog post, albeit with a faintly optimistic undercurrent. Written in lieu of an actual human conversation with another human in real life. Nice talking at you, internet. Mind how you go.

conscientious objection

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

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

In work meetings, the one constantly blurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.