Category: <span>Work</span>

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.

Enjoy.

Work

Amongst the many internet trends – the commercialisation of happiness, the quasi-religion of productivity approaches – there is one phrase that makes my toes curl and my blood start to simmer.

“Do what you love.”

It’s a distillation of a thought first offered by Confucius “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” and the sentiment is a noble one yet for many it is largely unobtainable.

I used to love my job, I loved the busy nature of it, I loved the different areas of helping build a product, and for many years as I progressed through the company, getting more senior roles, I truly thought of it as doing what I love.

I am a geek, I enjoy many aspects of building a software product, most of them on the user/business side of the equation admittedly as I’m not a developer. I enjoyed learning about accessibility, usability, user research and analysis, storyboards, roadmaps and more. I invested a lot of my own time and effort into it, working long hours across multiple timezones, chatting to teams in Indonesia in my mornings and San Francisco in my evenings (my Boss was, for a time, based in Boston, MA).

And then as I was about to transition to a newer role, one I was excited for which would’ve taken me into the world of product strategy with a sales and marketing view, the rug was pulled out from under my feet with one simple word. Redundancy.

It was the third time I’d been made redundant and, as with the others, completely blind-sided me. We’d had a couple of rounds of redundancies in the past but I’d always felt secure as my role and knowledge was fairly niche and unique at the time.

It was a blow.

Looking back it was likely a very good thing for me, personally, though. I managed to take a couple of months off, and when I started working again I did so as a contractor in a role I’d never done before, although I’d worked closely with them in the past.

It’s a different world when you are paid a day rate. I work 8am to 4pm, I don’t get sick pay or paid holidays, I pay my own tax. This means it’s not in my interest to invest any more of my own time, and that’s purely on a financial basis, my current project and contract has a finite end so I know I will be moving on at that point, which is yet another reason not to invest my time too heavily. I hold myself to my own professional standards and work ethics but at 4pm I am done.

Do I love what I do? No, it is a job that pays my bills. This is not a vocation, a calling, or anything like that for me and, despite the internet clamouring for validation and the strange need to attach higher value to things than they necessarily require, I’m quite happy with that.

The issue I have is that if I was to love what I do, my job would be a mish-mash of sitting on the sofa playing computer games, walking about in the fresh air, reading books, and a few other things commonly known as hobbies.

Which nicely brings me to another point, once again peer pressured into existence by the internet, of having to always be the best you can be at something. Why? A hobby should be relaxing, a way to unwind and switch off from the daily pressures of adult life, not a way to add to the stresses and strains you no doubt already have by demanding constant improvements of yourself! So you can knit a wonky scarf, but can you knit a pair of stripey socks.

I digress.

Since I started contracting my work/life balance, something I actually place value on, has never been better.

Granted I’m very lucky to be at least working in a job that is palatable, suffer-able, and on some days is actually fun (albeit in a ‘everything is a challenge’ kinda way). I don’t think I will ever place much value on loving what I do for work, but for me that just means I have all the more time and energy to put elsewhere, in things that offer me much more value; family and friends.

And oddly, spending my time with my loved ones whilst living life as best I can boils down to doing exactly what that phrase, the one I so loathe, suggests.

Do what you love.

Blogvember Life Work

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This post is brought to you by the Dolly Parton song ‘Nine to Five’. You’re welcome (hey, it’s been stuck in my head for days now, just thought I’d share the joy).

As I think I’ve mentioned, I got a new job late last year. I now work in a big office (well, two, actually) for a large business (no names!). It’s been quite a learning experiencing and a lot of change; it’s my first foray into the world of contracting, it’s a more defined role than I’ve had in years, and it’s in an environment which has a dress code, a clean desk policy, and which is about as far removed from the software company I used to work for that I could imagine (although I’m still working on a software project).

Most crucially, as I’m not salaried, I’m keeping to 9 to 5 (well 8.30 to 4.30ish) and my laptop remains locked away in my locker at work. No working at home for me, no adjusting my hours if I have a dentist appointment, and by and large I’m enjoying that aspect of things.

I am NOT enjoying having to use Windows, nor the very restrictive internet usage policy that is in place, but these are just things I need to adjust to. What probably irks me the most is that I feel a bit locked out of my personal tech ecosystem as I can’t install any apps outside of those that are approved.

Of course it does mean I’m much more appreciative of all the little in-jokes and whatnot that others have shared on Twitter and in blog posts over the past decade. The fight over the thermostat, the gruff security guards, the ‘someone stole my milk’ shenanigans.

First world problems of course, I am genuinely happy to have a job that pays well, is interesting and I’m getting to work with some good people. Add in the fact that I leave my work at the office (for the first time in 10+ years) and it’s doing a lot for my work/life balance which is probably why I’m so enjoying the adjustment. I am completely out of work mode by the time my 30 minute commute home finishes (on a bus, another change!).

Long may it last!

Personal Musings Work

Pride in better

My official job title is Product Operations Manager. I’m still not quite sure what that means as the role is still fairly new to me, and to the company.

My main day to day role is to help the team of Product Managers, Product Architects, Business Analysts and UX designers shape and scope out the next product release. We take a feed from Product Strategy which encompasses analyst data, customer commitments, improvements to help our own project staff, new features that we can market and sell, and those which continue to make our product better than many others out there.

I take pride in my job, I don’t like making mistakes, I don’t like things not working, I am always looking for ways to improve things and my biggest frustration continues to be being unable to influence change as quickly as I’d like. But that’s me, my work persona is 1000mph and high level. As I work in software, it’s fair to say that a lot of my time is spent slowing myself down and providing a level of detail to those who need it.

Blog Pride

A lot of my job is in the murky world of ‘management’, spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations, conference calls and meetings. Unlike my previous roles, my background is in technical writing, I don’t produce all that much that I can point at and say “I made that”. That doesn’t hugely bother me but that’s largely because I’ve turned to this blog as a means of fulfilling that need.

This blog has always been a bit of a lifeline, a place to ‘escape’ to, where I can write what I want with only my view and my expectations being met. I guess it’s only recently, during a particularly stressful fortnight, that I’ve realised just how much this tiny escape valve is needed.

I find myself looking to improve this blog too, and once again thoughts are turning to building my own custom WordPress theme. I reckon I can manage that over a weekend but who the hell has a weekend to themselves these days?!

Still, every time I visit my own website I see those little niggles. The spacing isn’t quite right there, the format of those posts could be better, and so on and so forth.

Happily Imperfect does not mean I’ve settled for imperfection, just that I’ve accepted that everything is and that I will always push to make things better.

Blogging Work

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Fear not, I am a fan of House of Cards so there are no spoilers here, a fair spattering of melodrama perhaps but that’s all mine and, for what it’s worth, I quite enjoy it.

House of Cards - S2e07 punchbag

I am easily affected. I take on traits, mannerisms and tropes with no real forethought and file it as part of the continued development of my sense of self.

I am not Francis J. Underwood nor to I ever hope to be.

Yet there is admiration of that character. He is aware of his flaws and has set his own moral compass, living by it, apologising to no-one. He has a long term plan, a vision of where he wants to be and will do whatever it takes to complete that journey. He is not a nice man.

The last few weeks have seen my working hours increase, stress levels rise and (but of course!) my insomnia kick in. The latter helps at times as it means I have more hours in which to get things done but that then destroys any real semblance of a work/life balance. This periods drain me, but this time it has been particularly bad. Something needs to change.

I have tomorrow off (at my bosses insistence) and a long weekend ahead of me to relax and refresh … but part of me wants to push on, that I don’t want to pause, not now. I want to act on my current stresses and tackle them, rid myself of those frustrations, strike while the iron is hot.

Tipping Point

It is here I look to Francis J. Underwood and fight my natural disdain of office politics. There is probably no coincidence that, in my current state of mind, House of Cards rings true and very loud. There is a scene which the image in this post alludes to, I won’t spoil it but I feel like Frank seems to at that point as he stands, silently, before voicing his opinion. It’s a tipping point in the storyline. I may be at a tipping point myself.

I am still learning my job, learning the boundaries and limitations but as they start to crystallise I find myself looking around for a hammer, or a machete, I’m not sure if I’m fighting my way through a dense forest of vines or smashing through walls but either way, some things will need to be broken for me to get where I want to be.

Can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Work

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What would I be doing?

When people ask me, if you could do anything, what job would you do? Well, I tend to flippantly respond by saying that I’d be a Zookeeper.

Part of me believes that. The part that loves animals, that finds them fascinating and would love to spend more time around them.

Part of me doesn’t though, because Zoos make me sad for the most part. I find myself torn between the desire to see these beautiful animals in the flesh, and then usually appalled to see them caged up, prowling round and round.

Wildlife parks seem to be better, for the most part, as it tends to be the small enclosures that trouble me the most.

So, if not animals then it would definitely be something to do with music. I’ve no idea in what capacity mind you, but I like to think that if my life had taken a different course I would be much closer to the arts in general, less tech-obsessed, and … happier?

I have this view of how my life might have panned out if I’d stuck with the piano lessons and pursued a career in music. I see myself happiest when playing an instrument or listening to music, I don’t see a house full of tech and gadgets but one full of books. It would look more cluttered but there would be less ‘stuff’ lying around. All of the mess would be consistent, bohemian abandon.

Romantic visions aside, I have a dusty guitar in my living room, a voucher for a guitar lesson still to cash in (it was a Christmas present) and so I thud back to earth with the realisation that no, I wasn’t destined to be a musician nor, as it turns out, be that engaged with the arts in general.

As for my love of animals, I perhaps look at the fact that I don’t have any pets, not solely because I rent and the terms of lease forbid it, but because pets are work, they need feeding, looking after, cleaning up afterwards. Hell I don’t have any kids, so why would I inflict a pet on myself? That said, I know there is a dog in my future somewhere. Probably a beagle.

Ultimately I am where I am today, doing what I do because it’s right for me. There may have been other opportunities along the way, decisions I’ve made may have steered me away from something notionally better, and certainly different, but then the grass is always greener.

C’est la vie.

Personal Musings Work

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I’ve had insomnia on and off for years but in the last year or so it’s started to occur more frequently.

I’m starting to figure it out though and it’s definitely work related. It seems that, during periods of high stress, my insomnia kicks in.

Beyond that I’m a bit hazy about why I wake at 4 or 5 in the morning, wide awake, regardless of when I went to sleep. I’m trying to track how fatigued or tired I feel at the moment to see if there is a pattern there but all that’s really doing is highlighting the things I stress and worry about and, obviously, that then allows my brain to focus on them and worry and stress some more!

There is possibly an element of decision fatigue at play as well, my new role demands much more in that respect, and as I’m still learning it, each decision is harder to make (takes more energy). Whilst the team size is no larger than in my previous role, at least there the decisions were easier as I had 15-odd years experience in that role.

Part of it is definitely down to the additional timezones I now have to work with, particularly as the overlap with California is so small. It makes each day that little bit longer, and each communication point and decision that little bit trickier to negotiate.

What to do?

Well I’m exercising more, trying to stagger my start times (later) to accommodate conference calls with the US, and largely doing what I can to be more organised as I know part of my stress is worrying that I’ve forgotten something!

I’m also hoping a holiday will help, roll on Glastonbury!

Life Personal Musings Work

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It was only back in December that I pondered this but with the news that Google Reader is to shut down I find myself revisiting some of those choices.

I still use Google Reader heavily, I consume it mostly through the website itself and via Reeder on my iPad, so it’s annoying that they are pulling this service.

But, as the adage goes, you get what you pay for, so I find myself, once again, revisiting the ‘what am I willing to pay for’ line of thought.

There are a few alternatives to Google Reader out there, I’ve tried some myself in the past, and already the tech blogs are offering their ‘best alternatives to’ posts.

But for me, the new consideration has to be whether I have the option to pay for the service with the hope that it offers a level of protection against the service disappearing on me. It’s either that or roll my own, or perhaps a 3rd party option like Fever (I have a server, and it is an option I might look at when I have more time, i.e. probably never!).

So far, of the many suggestions, the one I’ll be trying is NewsBlur precisely because it has a ‘paid for’ option.

As well as the specific impact of Google closing Reader to those that use the service, the fact that a company as rich as Google is (rightly) shutting down services that it sees no value from is a trend that is likely to start to pick up momentum.

Instagram prompted my original post on the “Going Paid” trend, how long before FaceBook push that application behind a paid for subscription?

Time will tell how this trend will pan out, but one thing remains constant and that’s the ever shifting nature of social media applications and their usage models.

Work

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