Our Crêpe Shaped World (Moving from London to Lima)

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Note from the editor (that’s me): From now on this blog uses Mumsnet style abbreviations to refer to my dear daughter (‘DD’) and dear partner (‘DP’) to protect them and their current and future careers against my big online mouth. This is a  necessary measure taken as a response to a surging popularity among the two family members and five or so spammers who occasionally visit this site.

“Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne

For me ‘another way’ meant dumping our clutter at a Cancer Research shop and cramming the rest into nine bags and a box for the bicycle. I wasn’t so much worried about moving to Peru as such, as I was about having only one way tickets; having different family names in our passports; and no document whatsoever that would show her completely absent biological father was in agreement with our emigration. However, after the 20 hour flight, my fears of long questioning evaporated as soon as the officials gestured“adelante” through a dedicated fast-track for families with young children. Being 6 years old at the Lima airport is a bit like being an EU citizen at Gatwick.

One of the first things I’ve realised, is the difference between ‘immigrants’ and ‘expats’. Where DP was an immigrant in the UK; me and my daughter are expats in Lima. He would still be an immigrant if he took his PhD to an investment bank. I’m still an expat even if I’m sipping down DP’s salary at Starbucks on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s the difference between ‘you are a cleaner’ versus ‘you have a cleaner’ (wohoo, I have a cleaner!). It’s the difference between making pancakes (me) or crêpes (him). Yet, apart from my good taste for chocolate, my consumerism, I don’t know what it is I’m contributing to the Peruvian economy. I’m trying to see if any of the local election banners promise “serious measures to tackle expatriation”.

So while I’m waiting for an expat task force crackdown at Starbucks, the Mission One for our new little family is to find a school for DD. Education is insanely expensive in Peru – by expat standards, let alone for the average Peruvian. In the event capitalism has worked out for the undeserving (single mothers? black people? indigenous people? atheists?), the other school admission requirements – which include a parental psychiatric test; references from two existing school parents; a family photograph that “includes the entire family” (particularly difficult since our only family dog is a mongrel) – will guard the country’s elite from mixing with mortals. Yet, I dare argue, access to a private swimming pool and personal psychologist aside, basic levels of literacy and numeracy are fairly mediocre compared to what one gets for the price of a school meal in London.

Being the economist that he is, DP thinks human capital investment should be treated as any physical asset. Will $10,000 enrolment fee + 10* $1,000/monthly fee over ten years plus inflation and family fun day entrance fee supplemented with home tuition and ballet classes etc give a better return than handing a publicly educated 19-year-old $100,000 to invest however she wants to? (I am happy to volunteer in the control group if anyone is interested in administering a study and doesn’t mind a participant who falls outside the age criteria by a couple of years.)

 I have to remind myself that we didn’t move to Peru for the quality of its British education or its corporate prospects for me. We  moved because there’s more to life than exam results and career, and the next time I’m bothered by such deep thoughts, I don’t want to be in hospital bed recovering from a spine surgery.

So I’m writing this sitting on the beach watching DD on the surf board. Every time she disappears into the waves my heart nearly stops and I nearly drop my new Mac which makes my heart stop again. I refuse to think whether the instructor is qualified, CRB checked, health and safety trained or what he knows about pedagogy. I just concentrate on waving at DD as she approaches the shore, standing on the board on her own for the first time.

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Letting It Go And Getting the Timing Right

In the past weeks apart from learning to lip synch to Let It Go (because apparently my voice is annoying), just as important as not holding back is knowing exactly when.
For example, in case you have forgotten, learning to ride a bike without stabilisers is hard work. It’s especially hard if when it comes to the practice of calm mindfulness, your mum is the opposite of a yogi, because she’s yet to get eight weeks off from work to do yoga and eat croissants (after literally – not metaphorically – losing some back bone). And if your dad was around, he would possibly have more patience but only after having exchanged the bike for cannabis.
So my daughter’s inability to ride a bike without training wheels was just a metaphor for the guilt I felt about our incomplete family. Yet her stabilisers hardly touched the ground so I knew she could do it, but she was as confident as the Bank of England. I’d hold and run behind her and then let go without warning. I thought this was commonly practiced pedagogy. “Are you holding? Are you holding?” “Yes! Keep pedalling!” I’d lie. But rather than cycling to the sun set she’d get completely hysterical and probably lost all trust in me for the next ten years.
Then one of these days, I didn’t let go. “Are you holding? ARE YOU HOLDING?” “No! You’re doing it yourself!” I lied. “SERIOUSLY? AM I GOING ON MY OWN? I’M PEDALLING ON MY OWN!” she cheered and the next time she demanded I step aside and just watch as she went by: “I’M THE CYCLING CHAMPIOOOOON!”
The thing about kids is that I suppose one can always plunge them into the water. But if they don’t sink they’ll get back to the surface more bitter than when they went down. I hope I can remember our cycling experience through her childhood and teenage years: Let her go in spirit and think she’s doing it herself.

This is the lesson number two: parenting is not a job for the credit hungry – they’ll never give you that and that’s ok, it shouldn’t be. But maybe when she has her own kids, I will tell her, guess what, I was holding you that whole time. That’s why you didn’t fall.

 

bikeCold never bothered her anyway.

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Zombie Child

I have often thought there is a special place in hell for people who schedule meetings to start at or after 5pm. Before I got sick, I imagined my death would be recoded at 18:17:24, on Hornsey Lane when I was trying to undertake the number 41 while revising a novel way of apologising for, for the third time in the week, being 17 minutes and 24 seconds late picking my daughter up from the afterschool club. Having said that, should these two scenarios come real, my after life would be very much like my current one minus the worry of trying to make it to the after school club for 6pm. In that sense the eternal flames could be an improvement in the quality of life.

I would miss my daughter though, but if the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is to be believed in, she is already a zombie. A study published today warns of the effects of children as young as four spending as much as ten hours a day at school, from breakfast to the evening snack. (Some of them spend on average around 10 hours and 17 minutes – I know, because it was me who bought her the watch.)

“These children walk around like ghosts, do not talk to anyone, fall asleep frequently, do not progress as quickly as their peers. Their parents are also ‘too busy’ to support them in an adequate way at home,” a teacher said in the Guardian.

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A ‘Zombie’ child playing ‘Zombicide’.

Unless ghosts have “excellent speaking skills” but are not such great listeners, as in my daughter’s reception year school report, I think this teacher might have been generalising a bit. But that’s ok. We are used to generalisations, us single parents. Even when we are generalised by omission, which this report is guilty of through depicting the time poor hard pressed as the nuclear family, where both parents have to – wait for it – work. In Finland both parents work, but primary school kids finish school by lunch time. And the school starts at age seven, for that matter. So contrary to a popular misconception, Finns don’t acquire their national zombie like characteristics until much later in life, and even the school murderers obtain their Finnish equivalent of GSCEs before being presented with a rifle at their 16th birthday.

But I’m getting all too EU labour policy-ish/Scandinavian noir here, when the point I was trying to make is that if the ten hour school days are true for any particular demographic segment, surely the single parent families would have their free hand up, even if in the Coalition’s dictionary, the word oxymoron is explained as a ‘working single parent’. This has even been unintentionally observed by my department’s leadership, in a cc all email to the practice: “it has been noted that some people leave at 5.30pm… to have an easier life… this is not acceptable.” So, guilt ridden after spending the 10 minutes of quality time with the daughter every evening (not shouting counts as quality, yes?), I try to bridge this gap between my easy life and acceptable humanity on my laptop until I collapse after midnight.

Clearly, until the day I can clone myself (which may be soon, based on the number of samples of tissue I’ve had taken from parts of my body during this long cancer diagnosis process), this all suggests that my default position is failure, whether as a parent or an employee, and from this position I want nothing more than kick Sheryl Sandberg’s ass when she’s leaning in.

But on the other hand, whether it is a question of your prognosis or your child’s progress, statistics and averages are mostly irrelevant at an individual level. My daughter does brilliantly at school – particularly on the verbal expression side, so the headteacher was surprised to learn she is actually bilingual (you see, the English view the knowledge of more than one language, that is English, as a handicap and hence this is not encouraged until one goes on a gap year to teach English to poor indigenous children in South America, because it is still a bigger handicap not to speak English even if one might argue they would benefit more of learning Spanish).

And this parental pride in itself qualifies me to give some advice, which apparently blogs can get famous (read sponsorship) for. Firstly, we do the homework during the school commute. It works. Secondly, lots of parents cram weekends full of activities. I used to take her to three different lessons on Saturdays and Sundays, because getting home at 7pm obviously means she can’t train as a classical pianist on a Tuesday afternoon. But I got fed up and tired, let alone bankrupt. Now we only do activities that have some enjoyment and benefit for both of us. So, for this not so much ‘tiger’ as your average hedonistic ‘family cat whose partner no-one has ever heard of’ mum this has involved swimming (I swim during her lessons); athletics (I train for my 10k PB while she’s in her session); being together at a djembe drumming workshop;  dancing salsa in Hyde Park; or playing a (good) board game. I realised that I can only genuinely do this quality time thing they go on about, if I’m actually relaxed myself.

But it’s possible that more drastic changes to the work demands and marathon school days are needed to make the time to develop some other skills. Not maths or literacy, but learning to ride a bike was our personal mountain. How fitting that we have now successfully climbed that one – during my sick leave.

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Why It Seems to Be Better to Be Fat than Black and Other Serious Illnesses

I was telling Taika about the time I had chicken pox. “I was eight and my sister was five, we both had chicken pox and we were at home alone while our mum and dad went shopping,” as the 1980s laissez faire Finnish parenting permitted. “When they came back, we got a surprise. We both got Barbie dolls.”
“Ooh, what kind of Barbies?”
“Mine was a Disco Barbie, she was black and called Dee Dee.”
“Ha! And what did your sister have?”
“I think she also got a Disco Barbie but a white one.” (Sometimes my mother and adoptive father went to some lengths to recognise my Afro-heritage – most of the time they didn’t)
“Your sister was so lucky,” she said with a sigh that contained six years of experience of how the reward of merit is not life’s business (Julian Barnes).
“But why?”
“Because she got the white one.”

Maybe I just didn’t expect my 6-year-old growing up in North London in 2010s – in the most diverse borough of the world’s most cosmopolitan city – have exactly the same reaction I had had twenty five years earlier in Finland, where the only black faces ever seen were in the church collection boxes. (How Dee Dee even ended up in our local supermarket’s stock is unknown and the police are investigating. Dee Dee – if you’re still there, go back home or face arrest, the Immigration are coming.)

She went on to elaborate that black was the worst, white was the best, and lighter brown – now she pointed herself – was alright “I guess”. “But you fancy Joshua?” and then, as if there was some logic-based point to be proven, I listed all the people that were darker than us that were our friends and who we loved. She shrugged and I could have launched on a trite parliamentary speech about every child matters. But before you judge me for not doing so, you should know how unsuccessful my “There Are No Girl or Boy Colours,” or “Boys Can Wear Pink. Girls Can Wear Blue,” or “Now Put This On or I’m Going to Get Mad” was. She would just give me a perfunctory nod to please me and next time keep her thoughts to herself for the protection of my outdated world view.  I’d be punished with premature condescension by my offspring only because of my hipocritical reaction to an honest cultural observation, one that she perhaps hadn’t thought anymore significant than “why do teenagers like to look cool?” and “why do Americans sound like someone was pinching their noses?”

Instead, I went to You Tube the next day to search for the famous doll test.

The direct in-your-face kind of racism is a pretty rare – although not non-existent – experience in my life these days. But despite being a woman who has all the social graces that come along with being a red-brick university educated city professional with a mirroring social circle, nonetheless she is sometimes reminded of the existence of certain world views when subjected to open discrimination and humiliation from the occasional cab driver or a night club door man. But what possible experiences are my six-year-olds views based on? Perhaps little every-day enforcements like this, which prove this is not an American issue. Or a Mexican issue. Or a phenomenon of a by-gone era.

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Superdrug, I don’t think ‘Naughty’ is quite my shade. Don't suppose you have any ‘Promiscuous’ in stock? 
And look at my friend over here. She needs something leaning towards the shade of a fetish?

Does it matter that I like to colour my hair honey blond? (But I also sometimes wear braids to be gaped by my colleagues as if I had gone through an overnight sex change. “You look like a recipient!” wins the award for the best compliment, ‘recipient’ in our context referring to the Sub-Saharan beneficiaries of one of the international aid programmes our consulting practice charges a few million quids to manage.) Or that I use contouring to make my cheek bones look more prominent and nose slightly narrower? Do these things matter?

Does it matter that judging by what we see, being obese today is a more acceptable beauty standard than being black? When Debenhams introduced size 16 mannequins last autumn this was celebrated – the average size of British woman is officially over-weight – and the equalities minister (yes,  I know) Jo Swinson endorsed this “latest move to show women off in representative lights.” Whether we think it’s beautiful or representative or full-figured or whatever, obesity comes with serious health risks. Being Black does not.

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The saints come marching in, in their representative lights

I will continue to tell my daughter that brown skin is not a disability and her light-skinness is not why she is pretty – and that girls can wear blue. It feels a bit of a one woman battle that I don’t know where to start. But in the first instance, right now I’d like to go home from the hospital and hug her and tell her how beautiful she is.

Today even more than on any other day, because I have just been told by the doctor that I have cancer.

It is not life’s business to reward merit.

So now if you excuse me, I will get up, comb my hair and put some make up on. Let the one woman battle commence.

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A Post Card from an Easier Life

Thought this would be as good time as any to include some inspiration from the corporate leadership from the past year.

“We do have a high performing culture; we’re bright, ambitious, energetic and driven people…”

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“…It will mean that we have to work really efficiently and effectively all of the time, and sometimes work at unreasonable and long hours – that’s the deal for any high performing team like ours.”

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“…concerned that some people are having an easy or easier life, relying on others to cover for them. The economic and competitive environment is too tough for us to do this.”

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“35 hours of activity is not a ceiling! Our best performers at the year end review combine high client utilisation with business development and practice support activities.”

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 “It’s not acceptable to opt out of this!”

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“Mum, I think you should find a new job. Like a librarian or a dog walker or something.”

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Deadline

 (ˈdɛdˌlaɪn)

n.

1. the time by which something must be finished, submitted, etc. 2. (formerly) a boundary around a military prison beyond which a prisoner could not venture without risk of being shot by the guards.

“She should be back by Thursday,”

was the management’s update to my colleagues on the status of my sick leave. I had told my project manager that I was in hospital having surgery and  not much good for work. In reality, I was staring at the smoke rising from a meteorite falling on the spot I had been standing five seconds earlier.

The pains that had developed in my back since the start of the year, had started to spread across to my sides, crawling to my abdomen, and intensified night by night. Over the two month period I self-experimented with pain management – from packs of paracetamol, ibuprofen, herbal baths (twice a night), cold gel, hot water bottles, sleeping upright, a sketch pad full of Frida Kahlo inspired doodles – but nothing ever allowed me more than a couple of hours sleep each night. It was something like going through labour pains, every night, but not once did it cross my mind to take time off from work. It’s just not the way we roll in our firm.

I finally got around taking a morning off work and get an appointment with a GP – having made it through a UK Border Agency style triage (“Is it an emergency?” “No, if it was an emergency I’d go to A&E, but I don’t want to wait for two weeks for an appointment.” or “Is it an emergency?” “Yes.” “What kind of an emergency? The doctor will call you in a week.”) – to be told that I should invest in a new mattress. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time I call a GP, they will have all been outsourced to India and I’ll be told to switch myself off and back on again.

Waving my private medical cover, I got a referral to see a physiotherapist albeit not without one more reminder about the mattress. I was now secretly self-medicating with Modafinil, a cognitive boosting prescription drug, available through very trust-worthy UK based online drugstores delivering in non-branded brown packages from China, my ‘i-don’t-know-how-she-does-it’ answer to being a single mum and a management consultant with two hours sleep per night and a performance review coming up. Which wasn’t much below the standard recommended sleep allowance for management consultants anyway; where grace is to be found in statements like: “I intentionally planned this deadline for Monday. So we can use the weekend as a buffer.”

That particular time I wanted to scream: “We are not using the weekend as a buffer. We are using my 6-year-old as the buffer. She has been the incredible curly-haired soft-cheeked buffer for these stupid deadlines for the past five and a half years!” But I didn’t think I was using my health as a buffer too, and I didn’t talk to my mum for two weeks when she unjustifiably instigated I was doing nothing but.

But I started to find analogies everywhere. Was I the only one who didn’t notice Lupita Nyong’o’s performance but  watched ‘12 Years a Slave’ thinking about work? The other night woken by pain again I watched ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and, whether a slave plantation or a mental institute, I just can’t help finding comparisons with the destructiveness of the corporate world which all seemed to shrink to the original meaning of a ‘deadline’, the step too far taken that will see you shot.

My physiotherapist asked about my symptoms and said I should see an Orthopaedic Surgeon. By this time I had spent one week night at an A&E,  lectured by an NHS nurse about reckless use of emergency services in a non-emergency. So I waited again another week for my GP – her indignation told me writing referrals was beneath her opinion of her role and to restore professional pride as well as compensate for the lack of any true influence, she, like any true bureaucrat, fully exercised her gatekeeper powers until she could nothing but – to refer me on.

At this point I thought it would be best to tell work why I would not be 100% ‘client chargeable’ that week (i.e. why there was evidence of me going offline in the course of the day)

Within two days from seeing the Orthopaedic Surgeon, I was sitting in front of a Neurologist listening  him making phone calls  to change the theatre schedule for an urgent operation. An hour earlier – 5pm on Friday – I had received a text:  “This is Dr Nicholls. I have your test results. I need to speak to you urgently” and two similar texts after that (Imagine anyone in the NHS calling you back, let alone Friday pm.) My MRI scan had revealed fluid around my spinal cord,  and I was told I had ‘Spinal cord abscess’, which is rare (less than 100 cases reported in modern medical history) but a life threatening condition. An early diagnosis followed by surgery and possibly chemotherapy can prevent paralysis. Tuberculosis used to be one of the most common reasons, so I am being tested for that while microbiologists and pathologists are looking at the fluid and a sample cut off my spine to see if it could have been caused by other bacteria.  I’m treated with antibiotics but some of the fluid had to be left in, as apparently it is too far back and an intervention would have left me unable to do Gangnam Style ever again.

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I thought this would be my last selfie.

The moral of the story is to always, always, always have a private medical insurance. You will have to do your own admin (faxing forms between hospitals and insurers etc), which is never fun but even less so when you think it’s taking the place of your bucket list as the last thing you’re doing, but I have nothing but praise for the London Bridge Hospital, where I’m treated alongside Saudi Royals. Amazing facilities, amazing staff. Amazing mattresses.

But if there’s anything else you would like to read to this story, is that no, sorry, for once in this fucking life  I’m not coming back to work on Thursday. There is no buffer this time.

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She came last night and brought me a nice present which was chocolate, which she ate. 
Then she asked if she could take the rest home.

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I am staring at the smoke rising from a meteorite falling on the spot I had been standing five seconds earlier.
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Dress Down Friday

I’ve never quite got Deluxe, the Friday supplement magazine of Evening Standard, but out of free commuter publications I still grab it over Watch Tower – despite the weird cover features like those today: “Eat Well, Lose Weight” and “Rich Pickings. How the Other Half Shops”.

Obviously I need to know how the other half shops and this is what I discovered:

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  Simone Rocha, neoprene dress, at Dover Street Market, £1,115 (Net-a-porter has sold out)

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This is your life (ish)

It takes me two weeks to write a blog post. Work consumes me and what it finds indigestible becomes the mid-week left-overs for my daughter. I myself exist in the periphery of my own life, pushed to the furthest edge of a Sunday, which if you blink, turns into a new working week.

I really liked this, and if writing about love wasn’t completely out of my character, I’d personally – by way of a blog post – vouch for what it says here – with anecdotes on top. I may even do that. On a Sunday night.

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–>

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Ten Things I Hate about Management Consulting

Therewileecoyote are lots of positive aspects to being a management consultant. Like a free Economist subscription and a salary that buys me Spotify premium. I also genuinely like some of the people and some of the partners. Some of the projects are even interesting. (I write about them too much in my CV to mention here).  But there is also a psychological condition called the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages express empathy and have positive feelings toward their captors. It is nearly Monday morning, and I suffer from neither empathy or positive feelings, so here you go:

 

 1. Team working

If constant brainstorming in teams and the use of flipcharts were a prerequisite for leadership, the apartheid might have never ended. I’ve referenced Susan Cain and the power of introverts a couple of times already, but that’s because I think it should be on the mandatory reading list of any MBA student looking forward to life-long leadership workshops put into practice in some over-ventilated open office. Because otherwise you may start thinking that when the constant interaction is disrupted by an unexpected occurrence such as the weekend, it is normal to suffer from a separation anxiety from your colleagues; and that to alleviate this pain, you need to provide frequent email updates on progress, i.e. that you are doing your work (it is always a good idea to send these updates between 10 pm and 7 am as that shows commitment).

Because just as you’ve come to believe that as an individual you are nothing and that we are in this together; you have nailed all of this in your personal development plan signed off by your manager, the year-end presents with your performance appraisal, and you shall discover that there is an ‘I’ in the ‘ team’ after all. You realise that the contest for who most audaciously and convincingly takes individual credit for the past year’s team achievements started a year ago and is about to close.

Team working in the corporate world is like the prisoner’s dilemma without the dilemma. (You know the “if A and B both betray the other, each serves two years in prison; if one betrays but the other doesn’t, the betrayer is set free the betrayed serves three years; if neither betrays, both will serve one year”).

2. Deadlines

Unlike the term suggests, deadlines have nothing to do with death and everything to do with the regret that we have chosen a useless profession. The presumption is that without these self-imposed dates that always get moved at the eleventh hour, we wouldn’t a) feel important b) give a shit. They are the commonly accepted mitigating factor when you’re awallpapers_wile-e-coyote_04_8001-300x224n arse to your colleagues, shout at your children, don’t see your friends and don’t call your mum.

No-one is actually going to die.

In fact, someone may stay alive a bit longer if your hospital client doesn’t receive the report on A&E efficiencies today.

But we are constantly running, like that sorry Wile E Coyote speeding over the cliff, looking down seconds too late and falling down.

If we paused for two seconds, we’d face the risk of finding nothing below us.

3. Language (Spiritual and Otherwise)

When I applied to university to study Sociology my then boyfriend’s dad congratulated me on becoming someone who can talk so no-one will understand. Ten years later I disagree. My essay on Gramsci’s subaltern concept was as clear as Hickory Dickory Dock.  When I started management consulting for the first year I kept a little glossary on the back of my note book. Not only do we commonly use verbs as nouns (“I will send you an invite”) and nouns as verbs (“I will action this by COP”), our pseudo-scientific methodologies meshed with stints in the industry have produced terms that no  longer make sense outside their original context. (For lots of funny examples see Steven Poole’s  Who Touched Base in Thought Shower) The purpose of this pomposity is to make us look more clever than the client; disguise our common sense solutions, and so justify our fees.

A friend once responded to my regular weeping about work by talking about the difficulty of expressing myself within the constraints of the “spiritual grammar” of the firm (He is not a management consultant but a theologist). I really liked what he said, although I’d never thought about a spirit having a grammar and I’m most positive that the ninth floor of our office building has no spirit. But presuming such grammar exists, I am getting very bad marks. I am getting very bad marks anyway, as evidenced by my “personal development” need to improve on my writing. It doesn’t meet the high standard of our brand: “I did quite a bit of editing on this more than I would have expected,” I read after sending a letter for the project manager’s review.  Keen to learn from the high standards so elusive to me, I highlighted one of the two sentences he had added in the letter: “you have only reported on spot checks and you have suggested the rates are  x% and y% which seems really low – this needs more exploration – you should be using have registration if you have it with spot checks used to triangulate.”

I read it again.

I read it again.

Then I told my spirit not to worry as I do not understand the English grammar of this place either.

4. Creativity

If after all the team working and deadlines you are still feeling creative, and speak the right language, let the artist within you out of its cage and innovate! All you need is a ‘sponsor’ i.e. a partner who takes you seriously; be immediately able to show the commercial value of whatever it is you are creating; make it consistent with the corporate brand; get it through the internal risk and quality – congratulations!

This section is short. This is intentional.

5. Humble Pie Chart

Judging by the above you may think there isn’t much creativity happening in the firm. You are mistaken. I once took part in a video project called “What I admire about Partners and Directors”.  I wasn’t there when this was conceived, but I imagine there was a brainstorming session and a conversation that went something like this. “But we only have five partners in the current practice. It is impossible for them not to be identifiable.” “How about we add ‘directors’?”

Those squirming at the thought of having video evidence of brown-nosing were won over by the promise that this was not really about what I admire about partners – and directors! – but an opportunity to highlight admirable leadership behaviours that could inspire our very partners and directors. Aaah, now I get it! Apart from two directors that had been made redundant two years earlier, I couldn’t think of anyone I admired though, so I made up a fictional character for my two minute clip. I’m not lined up for a Golden Globe though, because my talk about ‘humility’ was edited out.

6. Ambition

When a seven year old says they want to be a premier league footballer – aww. When you know that there are about 540 registered premier league players (ok, you didn’t know, but you googled it) and around one and a half million boys in the UK kick a ball, and it is your son in question, you might encourage little Tyron to practice his spelling just as a back-up no matter how good he is on the pitch or how fly the hair style.

The commercial models of big consultancies operate on somewhat similar staff-partner ratios. Yet no-one thinks it illogical to kill yourself, get fat and have no life over ten, fifteen, twenty years if it’s to become a partner – any self-respecting management consultants aspires nothing but  – for a worse hair style and a lower weekly salary.

Please see the section on Team Working for more details on how to get up there.  (And if you have time, read ‘Ranked and yanked’ published in the Economist: “their business model is, in a sense, built on recruiting large numbers of junior staff and motivating them with the prospect of becoming a partner, even though in practice only a few of them can ever make it… employees may look for ways to game the system, as happened at Enron, where workers conspired to inflate their results to secure their bonuses or escape the axe.”)

7. Your Body and Soul – Buy One Get One Free

You might be excused if every day conversations about selling yourself, making yourself available, being utilised, made you confuse consulting with the world’s oldest profession. But if your average management consultancy conjures up parallels with prostitution, being a mother is like being a prostitute with one leg and one boob, and being a single mother is the above plus syphilis. You wouldn’t believe the kind of  daily logistical circus tricks we have to perform to end the year with the same, let alone higher, utilisation as the management consultant equivalents of Julia Roberts. (I’m saying “we”, although in my five years I’m yet to come across another single mother in the sector.)

Of course there comes a point when putting you on projects is not economical (because your salary is at least twice as that of your peers working in the industry, because you are so bright), and at that point selling people things they don’t need becomes another key metric against which your human worth gets evaluated. You’ve now made it as a pimp.

I woke up early on a Saturday morning with a hurricane in my stomach – one that was wanting to come out.  Good disaster prevention practice meant no electrical equipment should be placed within a three meter radius of either possible exit. That included my laptop. So my first thought at 5am on Saturday morning was not how to get my daughter to the swimming class, but that I would have let my colleagues know I was not going to be able to look at that report. That thought was followed by two questions: how do you take a day off sick when it is your day off? And, are they going to believe me or think I was just suffering from a hangover?

Then I knew I didn’t own my life, let alone my career.

8. Expert

When you complete your PhD you look up to some emeritus professor with forty five years of experience in the use of nuclear reactions to enhance the treatment of cancers by ionizing radiation, and you wish that one day you could call yourself an expert. Do not waste your time. Join a management consultancy, do a three-month project in pharmaceuticals and in the next proposal your CV is annexed under the list of experts! Market changes, worry not, you are only three months from being a telecoms SMS (=subject matter specialist)!

Only you will ever know that really the only thing you’re an expert in, is bullshitting about your expertise.

9. (Stay) Away Days

The kind of team building days at a corporate venue in the London tube zone 7 or beyond, where you really entertain yourself by trying to guess how much the motivational talker gets paid and making really good doodles in your venue branded note pad while getting an indigestion from over eating mint sweets. I don’t remember any of the content, but if I do, I’ll amend this section.

10. Propositions

All of the above come together nicely in propositions, the menu items we sell to the client. If you are stupid enough to have stayed around for five years, you realise the menu never changes, just the names do. But you will still go to the training, because you have to and because of the free sandwiches. The menu of those never changes either.

wile_e_coyote_and_road_runner_by_xxgdogg17xx_wallpaper-t2From HDWpapers
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Career Coaching

“Do you not want to be anything?” my daughter inquired as we were walking – no, me half walking half running; her half running, half flying – up the last hill to the school. “Or you just want to be a mum?”

Interesting positioning of the career vs stay-at-home debate where whatever the criticism, the one I thought I was not going to be subject to was ‘being just a mum’, having started working when she was six weeks old and done little else since. She seems to think motherhood as my full-time occupation, and that work is purely instrumental, not an identity. (Why would anyone think so?)

“I’m not just a mum, I’m a…” I hesitated at ‘management consultant’. Let’s not mock my daughter’s intelligence. “I work.” (How am I ever going to credibly convince anyone whose hands my career is in of the importance of my job, when I can’t say so and look a six-year old in the eye).

“Yes. But I mean, don’t you want to become something? Like a ballet teacher?”

“I’d like to be a writer. Write books.”

“Who would you send them to?”

“Hmmm… an editor, maybe?”

“Or me? If they’re like children’s books and interesting.”

“Yes. What would you want to be?”

“Gruffalo!”

Nearly at the top. “Sh-t. I forgot my lunch in the fridge!”

“Do they have food at work?”

“They do, but I end up spending a lot of money if I don’t bring my own.”

“You just have to work harder then. It’s important that you eat, mama.”

I dropped her off,  found the walk easier downhill, crammed into the tube, and cried.  Tubes are a good place for this. In the closed, restricted space in a quest to preserve some dignity and personal space people are trying to be mentally as distant from each other as they are physically close, so it doesn’t matter what you are thinking and whether that is followed by a stream of tears,  ticks or whatever as long as it doesn’t release odour.

I realised what I had written in my diary the night before was a paradox. I said I didn’t mind ‘change’ but I couldn’t handle this uncertainty.  But it is impossible to take uncertainty out of change, because by definition we can only be certain about things that are in the past, and we can have a feeling of certainty if we have enough confidence that the past, or most elements of it, have a strong likelihood of being repeated, which is not exactly how you might describe ‘change’. Saying that change is ok, but uncertainty is not is a bit like saying that you like the beach but not getting sand in your crack.

“We are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world, our story. We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one. We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us, even – or perhaps especially – in an emergency”

Stephen Grosz, ‘The Examined Life’

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