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Happily Imperfect‽ Posts
It’s fair to say that I’m enjoy cycling way more than I expected and as someone who has the habit of jumping into new hobbies quickly (and deeply) I’m even happier that the simple joy of exploring the local countryside has yet to abate.
I’m also happy to find myself capable of much more than I thought too, both physically and mentally, and oddly I’ve found it’s the latter that is the larger part of what I’ve had to overcome when it was the former that has played on my mind far more in the past.
Having gotten a new bike last year, and having made the most of the COVID lockdown quieted roads, I started cycling more regularly but then I seemed to stall. I got to about the hour mark on my rides, mostly on the same roads, and it was starting to get a little boring.
It took me some time to figure out what the issue was… why couldn’t I ride further?
In the past, I’ve done longer organised rides like Pedal for Scotland – cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh (bus back) – and whilst they are 40+ miles, they are a day out with a few stops for cake and food along the way, tackled by all abilities, and was more about the day itself than the cycling; it was a great event that unfortunately ended a couple of years ago.
What I realised last year was that the few times I did Pedal for Scotland, it became a goal, a reason to get out on my bike before it to make sure I could actually do it and, whilst I know I enjoy being out on my bike once I’m out, I still occasionally need that push, still need that goal, a reason to sling on my cycling gear, don a waterproof, and start spinning the pedals.
So, in the spirit of challenging myself and setting a goal, I signed up to ride Etape Caledonia last year but thanks to COVID, it’s been moved (twice!) and is now finally running this coming September. It’s a 40 mile route and, while it does include rest stops, it is a bit more serious than Pedal for Scotland with a suggested ‘minimum average speed’ of 13mph, which at the time seemed like a good thing for me to target, and so the training began.
My beautiful fiancee and her family are big cyclists – her brother was a professional cyclist for a few years – so I’ve had no end of encouragement and helpful pointers when needed, and this includes picking routes which can, in my limited experience, make or break things, that and the weather obviously.
Becca is a mobile dog groomer so has spent a lot more time driving around the West of Scotland than I have and she has been wonderful at suggesting routes for me to try, including which direction to go to avoid (or tackle) the steeper hills. Strava is my weapon of choice when it comes to planning routes; it’s maybe not the best but as it syncs easily with my Wahoo Roam bike computer it’ll have to do for now.
Becca’s local knowledge has been a huge boon. With the confidence of her directions, a GPS map in front of me, and even taking the time to drive the route in advance, I’ve pushed past my ‘limit’ of 1hr, blasted through 2hrs, and can now comfortably ride for 3hrs.
At this point the challenges change. Etape Caledonia is 40 miles, and by current average pace estimate, Strava thinks I’ll complete that (non-stop) in about 2hrs 47 mins. To put that in some context, when I first started training for it, the estimated time was 3hrs so I’m pretty happy with that progress with still a couple of months to go.
I’m even going to ride the Etape route in advance just to get my confidence a little higher because, as it turns out, that’s all I was really missing, confidence and self-belief. My legs have hauled me up some long horrible hills and I have to admit I’ve surprised myself at my ability to just keep going; the most recent horror was ‘Tak Ma Doon’ up and over the Campsies which took me 30 minutes of solid (slow) riding uphill (rated 9th hardest hill in the UK I think!)
All of this means that while I know I won’t be the fastest person at the Etape in September, I’m pretty sure I won’t be the slowest, but that’s really not what it is about. All of this, I now understand, is just giving me the confidence to go and ride the event without fear, to go and have fun out on my bike amongst our beautiful Scottish countryside.
Beyond the Etape there are other goals to look towards, 100km, 100 miles, and at that point I’ll likely stop because whilst I enjoy being out on my bike, the current estimated time for me to complete a 100km ride is 4hrs 20mins (100 miles comes in at 6hrs 45mins, so an entire day on the bike!), and that’s before the not inconsiderable event of the arrival of our new born sometime late October. By then who knows what free time I’ll have, maybe that 1hr loop will seem like a luxury!
Yes, it’s fair to say that I’ve got the cycling bug and whilst I’m mostly a fair weather cyclist, the desire to get out for a spin is starting to override the usual Glasgow showers. I’m not questioning all this, not overthinking it, just going with the flow and removing all the pressure from myself. It’s just what I do now, another thing to add to the growing list of what I am.
I talked about this before, but whilst my adoption of meditation into my life was a deliberate choice, cycling seems to have snuck up on me a little. The more times I go out, exchange acknowledging nods with fellow MAPILs*, the more I feel at home. No matter how high the hill I feel confident I will get there eventually, no matter how far from home I venture I feel more and more secure in my abilities on the bike, and in my head.
I won’t ever be fast, but I’ll always be happy!
Image (not of me!) courtesy of Fat Lad at the Back – a wonderful company with great products and a super supportive community of riders too!
* Middle Aged Person In Lycra
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Well not really, more a quick hack.
Working at home I’ve been enjoying listening to the radio. For a while it was BBC Radio 2 – the joys of Popmaster far too often interrupted by meetings! – but I’m back to 6Music which always feels like ‘my’ radio station.
I have a work laptop that I can’t install things on so, rather than have to keep a browser tab open all day, I looked for other solutions to have a wee radio player running on my Macbook.
There are a lot of apps but given I only listen to one of two stations, many of them felt a bit overkill. Especially as few would startup on my station of choice.
The BBC Sounds app is good, but still took a bit of clicking around to get going, and then I stumbled across a little menubar app that seemed to do what I wanted.
So off I went, installed XCode, grabbed the code and created two instances, one for BBC Radio 2, one for 6 Music.
Grab em, drop in your Applications folder and run! (CMD+Q to quit, there isn’t a menu in the app for that).
I THINK it’s ok to share these here for others, credit and original code here: https://github.com/moomerman/Sounds
I’ve always admired poets, admired with envy as I gaze upon their words, the way they flow, the imagery they conjure, the emotions captured and delivered with subtle grace and ingenuity. Hell even just getting a few paragraphs that follow some form of cadence is a miracle to me.
Oh yes, I’ve tried my hand but beyond a few rhyming couplets I start to stutter.
My Dad on the other hand was, it turns out, quite the prolific poet and songwriter. From his early days performing folk songs to writing odes for departing colleagues, he kept on writing and, taking no small inspiration from a well-kent Scottish bard, he wrote frequently for the numerous Burns suppers he attended and performed at, sonnets and speeches, toasts, and retorts, all were well within his grasp.
Latterly he took to writing about all sorts of daily gripes, family life, and anything that came across his view.
I’ve read a few of his creations over the years, shared a few here and there as well. When I sat down to write for my sister’s wedding it was Dad that I had in mind, Dad that I was really trying to impress.
Before he died, my father had started collating all of his poems and songs into a book. He’d done virtually all the work, even gotten as far as ordering 20 copies to test the process. Unfortunately, he passed away before more were required.
I’m currently revisiting this little project of his, and we are hoping to be able to publish some copies in time for the 1st anniversary of his death.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting this off as long as I can, but I find that re-reading his words is bring more solace than I expected. I can hear his voice, know where he would put emphasis, and where he’d pause for a laugh, and whilst it’s still torturously sad that he won’t write or perform again, the fact we have all these words of his at all makes me smile; a small part of him retained.
I wonder if that’s now the reason I’m writing more in my journal, and still publishing things here, as a way to capture things for my family when I’m gone. A way to give them this same feeling of sad comfort.
A few years ago I moved from permanent salaried jobs to contracting. Ostensibly it was a shot in the dark as I needed a job, any job, at the time, and I thought why not?! It was (and still is) a means to an end. Like you I have bills to pay and so, having not yet won the lottery nor been bestowed a modest (but generous) amount of free money by a mysterious benefactor, I found myself putting on my best (only) suit, digging a slightly creased tie out of the back of my wardrobe and presenting myself for a screening interview.
6 minutes later, I kid you not, I was done and an hour after that I got the call that they were happy to offer me the position. That was over 5 years ago and I’m still working in the same place.
My current contract was due to end in September as the project I’ve worked on that entire time is finally being wound up and only a handful of staff, myself included, remained to work through various close down activities. With the end of my contract in sight I decided to start the onerous project of finding a new job, and opened up my LinkedIn account again to see how the job market was and what ‘opportunities’ might be found there.
My oh my, I had forgotten what a mess LinkedIn can be and whilst you can filter out a lot of the noise, and I certainly do my utmost to do that, it’s still a place heavily dominated by American work ethics and ideals that I’ve always baulked against, things I find myself actively pushing back against more and more as I mature (ok, get older) as the more of it I see the more I realise that a lot of the thinking and approach that a lot of that is based on just seems inherently wrong to me.
I am not against hard work but the overwhelming view that seeps out from LinkedIn is one with an undertone of ‘no matter what you are doing you should be doing more, being more effective, levelling up constantly, aspiring for more and more and more’ and whilst there is a place for that I’m glad that I’m no longer of a mindset to take on board any of that nonsense.
I recall a co-worked from many moons ago who had the chance to interview with Microsoft. He was keen on the job itself but somewhat put off when, during the interview, they listed one of the benefits was that they would move him from Scotland to California (nice!) and put him up in an apartment (score!) which also had a large number of Microsoft employees (ehh ok), so just think you could brainstorm that tricky problem over a BBQ in the evening with your co-workers (ohh dear god no!).
It’s that always on, ‘work is life’ view that has never sat well with me, although I confess there was a time when I was probably a little closer to that being my reality than I care to admit…
Longer term readers of this blog will know I’ve got a bit of an eye for productivity and life-hacks but I’ve come to realise that my approach has always been to look at the latest greatest ‘system’, pick the low hanging fruit from it (gah, I cannot escape the corporate speak), give it a whirl in the day to day activity that I call life and then keep it or ditch it. I am no slave to theoretical time savings or productivity boons, and am more and more bemused by the idea that all of these tweaks are solely, in the eyes of most of their creators at least, seen as ways to minimise your time doing X so you can spend more time being busy doing Y. With both X and Y being solely in the world of your ‘work day’ and at the behest of being ‘productive’.
What the Z?
Here’s the thing. This view that life is about pushing harder and smarter to be able to work more, achieve more, to minimise wasted time, all so you can do more work and get further, and have more and… well it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me. When does it end? Even when, for a couple of years, I willing found myself swept along on this very path, I still never really felt like I was in control, more just paddling frantically to keep up although with who, or what, I never found out.
I’ve never really had a professional career path, never really known what job I really wanted (aside from being an astronaut but that rocket has long since flown) instead I headed in a vague direction and hoped for the best. Working in IT I have spent time with a lot of people with a very different mindset, people who are always playing the game to get ahead, always playing politics or mind games or blah blah blah. Sorry, I wish I could describe it better but having never given two hoots about such things I genuinely do not know how they work, although I am pretty good at getting myself out of such situations, mostly by feigning innocence. Well, I say feigning, perhaps it’s actual ignorance as I do tend to ignore such things in the work place as best I can. This is also why I am always the last to know the office gossip!
That professional drive to ‘achieve’ and garner all the trappings of success, status, wealth, are all part of the basic premise of being better at getting things done, to ultimately have more stuff/money. Gosh I feel like such a failure! Clearly I should adhere to those 5am morning rituals that the top CEOs follow to properly set me up for a productive day of doing more, so I can get that big promotion, earn the big bucks and drive a nice big flash BMW, get that 66″ OLED TV, to go in my 5 bedroom detached mansion, right?
Well I must be doing something wrong, as I have none of those things! Sure I’m happy and content but so what! Back to Linkedin for confirmation that lots of other people I’ve worked with now have big long fancy titles, and do lots of important work, and think about work even when they aren’t at work. Ugh.
It’s just not for me. I’ve bumbled my way through my professional life as best I can, never had a plan from the moment I left school other than going to University because ‘that’s what smart people do’, and the places of work I’ve ended up in have been varied in size, role, and seniority every time. In saying that, I don’t even have a degree and what self-respecting professional would’ve let that happen!
Truth be told, I always enjoyed pointing this latter fact out to the many high-flying graduates I’ve worked with, in fact I took an almost a perverse pleasure in watching them ummm and ahhhh their way back out of whatever conversational turn had them talking about how amazed they were that people without a first class degree could even get up in the morning (ahhh to be young and know the world so well, and yes, I was just as obnoxious at that age).
Note: I did start a degree course, attending Glasgow Polytechnic (latterly know as Caledonian University) for two years, and did enough to get the HND but I never picked up the certificate.
This failure of academia wasn’t because I wasn’t intelligent enough, rather that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Which I think is a pretty common thing when you are in that weird transitional period of being an adult by law but having no idea what the future may hold for you, nor all that clear an idea of what you hope lies out there as you start to explore the world.
So I took an Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree course; if I’d been even a year later no doubt I’d have taken a Computer Science course but I doubt the outcome would’ve been much different, I just wasn’t interested in ‘learning’. It’s not something I’ve dwelled on either – which is odd given my inherent fear of failure/disappointing people – and as it hasn’t stopped me having a reasonably successful career, presuming you judge such a thing by my employment record and salary earned, in other words, I’ve always worked and earned money for doing so.
Yet many people don’t view things that way and as careers can be judged on many factors, with a lauded job title high on the list of achievements to strive for! Clearly my career is failing and always have been. It’s something I’ve made my peace with now but I’ll admit my thinking wasn’t all that different a few years ago.
I’d been made redundant twice before, but the last company I worked seemed to fit me well. Good people, a strong HR department that invested in their staff, and as a more mature member of staff (hey they took on a lot of graduates, I’m not THAT old) I had experience that many others didn’t.
Things were going well. For a time my job title was Product Operations Manager, and with an acquisition there was scope for that to become GLOBAL Product Operations Manager, my oh my how fancy!! We will gloss over the fact that the title was made up by myself and my boss at the time as I was doing a mish-mash of a role of ‘stuff that needs done’ (which was fine by me). I was considered part of the senior management team (by experience as much as age) and whilst many around me had their eyes on loftier titles, I was happy because the work was interesting and I felt valued (note: this would appear to have been my definition of success at the time).
And then they made me redundant. Next thing I know I’ve had a 6 minute interview for a role I’ve only vaguely done in the past but I’m pretty sure I can handle and, I’m still there doing the same work, happily NOT on the corporate ladder and my imposter syndrome has faded enough to get me through a working day. Fake it until you make it, right?
Now what I’m about to say might solely be down to adjusting to life as a day rate contractor.
Since then any notion of ‘career’ has entirely vanished. I could care less what my job title is, I no longer worry that there is no career path in front of me, and now that my responsibilities are largely ‘turn up and do the work’ I find my entire work/life balance has shifted. Perhaps it’s down to my age, and the hand that life has dealt me (a very good one!), but the more I shy away from the idea that work is the centre of life and how coupled that idea is with the desire to always chase for more status, more money, more material things, the happier I become.
In fact, the further I get into this mindset, the more bemusing I find the constant barrage of posts on places like LinkedIn that all push you to be more productive, to do more, work harder, c’mon on do more more MORE; there is a definitely a belief that if you aren’t striving for the ever elusive MORE then you are failing.
Now I know in reality that how you apply measures to something as amorphous as success can be easily skewed to whatever worldview you want but, having removed myself from that particular ‘MORE’ focused world, it’s even more startling to be on the outside looking in at the relentless stream of advice all delivered with a little too much self-knowledge and with little to any self-awareness. A lot of it is by ‘successful’ white men, but not all. Want to be a millionaire? Want to retire when you are 40? Want to find more hours in the day by learning to wake up at 5am? It’s all there and all couched in words that make you feel that if you aren’t striving for all of these things you are somehow falling short of some measure by which you are being judged.
I just can’t. Not anymore.
Instead I’m slowly building up my own world view on how to have an anti-career, how to be happy without knowing what your next career move is, how to not freak out when you get made redundant, how to be a hard working professional that ends their work day at an appropriate time and knows how to switch off properly. I’m still figuring it all out but there is definitely the need for something, I think.
I just need a catchy title for my new system, or perhaps I should refer to it as a movement? I’ll need to work on it a little more for sure, although first I’ll need to check I’ll have time to do it justice, ideally it’ll be a good period for active brain time and a newly downloaded app I found on a productivity website tells me that time falls just after completing my morning wake up routine and whenever I make my cold brew mix for the day, so hopefully I can block out that period, do some positive strategising and visualise the manifestation of my new journey towards a whole new …. hey, wait a minute, THEY’VE SUCKED ME BACK IN AGAIN!!
I do believe that an anti-career is achievable though, and I definitely feel that there is something to be said for a middle ground (ain’t it always so) that isn’t ‘unplug from the grid/stop serving The Man’ and yet isn’t ‘better faster more productive’, and it’s here in this ‘working professional that doesn’t find themselves beholden to their job’ that I find myself these days.
I’ll admit all this was made a lot easier by the pandemic, giving me a lot more control over my time, but it was heading this way regardless, heading to a place where I log in around 8.30am-ish, and back out around 5-ish, with sometimes a long lunch, or a walk, with a break to meditate for 10 mins, with no nagging feeling that I’m under-performing. My work is being done, I am meeting expectations, I am not streamlining my day to grab back lost minutes, I am not striving for anything other than my own satisfaction of having done a good job.
Welcome to the anti-career, a place that has no worthwhile measures of success, no goals to be attained, just a warm friendly hug and the promise that it’s ok if that thing you meant to do today doesn’t get done until tomorrow, as long as it gets done. A place that suggests you stop thinking about work, and step away from the computer more often. A place that accepts that ultimately, strive as you might, you have no real control over what happens to you and in even the best workplaces, you are still a resource that one day will no longer be needed.
Starting to get my exercise mojo back after a couple of months fighting an injury and a wee chest infection; the change in the weather helps too!