Category Archives: work

For a Reason, for a Season

“For a time, then, we stay. For a time. Till the changes.” 

Joanne Harris, Chocolat

Our life has settled into a contract with its new landscape, allowing to be shaped by its busy architecture while also leaving its own mark on whatever it comes in touch with. It’s made a few twists and turns and a couple of backflips to get over obstacles on its way – before quickly resettling into a forceful but steady flow.

Getting up before the sun is finally getting easier now that even the sun doesn’t want to get up. The only souls I meet during my morning run in the city of ten million inhabitants are a couple of dog walkers. Saturday mornings are a happy exception: I join two hundred other runners to race two laps around Finsbury Park in the weekly Park Run event. I’ve made it from the fourth to the second fastest woman in my category (aren’t you proud, mum?) in a distance I didn’t much care for in the past. Afterwards, many of us gather in the park cafe for this latest British sports nutrition fad you should try: tea and cake.

I have some fruit in the office, as part of this new ‘old’ life, too. There are baskets of small, unripe bananas, mandarins and figs with the succulent taste of corporate wellbeing. Desperate for a gustatory reminder of our year in South America, I’ve been looking to find a custard apple in London’s best markets and whole food stores, to no avail.

So I sketched new plans on new projects in countries where fruit is being grown. Where people produce and don’t just consume. The advert panel on my browser flashes pictures of apartments in suburbs which I can’t pronounce. But basically what happened next is that when I disabled my out-of-office I mistakenly forgot to disable ‘me’, and soon came a friendly but stern management reminder that this was a “business”, not “a travel agency”. One shall not just butterfly around without a business purpose. One shall articulate her commercial story and take every opportunity to bore everyone to death with it. That’s the company policy.

For one solid week I cried over this unsolicited psychoanalysis. It was true and I needed to hear it. Out of all the wicked things one could be in this world, there’s nothing quite as lowly than a person who makes a career out of always wanting to be everywhere else apart from where she is, and transports that over-sized dissatisfaction wherever she goes weighing down not just herself but those who love her:

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Many years ago, I had a dream where I was on a cruise ship. Walking along the corridors, opening doors that blocked my way, I climbed up narrow steps from deck to deck, and passed other passengers. After a while, I noticed that the doors didn’t change. Each deck I arrived on, I had been on before. Not only that, but the faces I saw were the same. The events repeated themselves. It was like being entertained by a 90s Microsoft screensaver. I was locked inside a matrix of de-ja-vus and to get out, I started harassing fellow passengers for directions. Their insouciant answer was that there were no exits, only entrances, but why would anyone want to leave such a great place!

I probably wrote this dream down all those years ago, because at that point I had nothing else to write about. I had finished my degree, broken up with my boyfriend, and been rejected for a grant to study in New York. Because there were no other viable cities on the earth, I returned to my old depressing waitressing job in a sandwich bar and became a 3-D public health campaign against studying Sociology.

Having the sense that tomorrow is going to be a repeat of today is a prison sentence – and I’m basing that analogy on a wholly personal experience of watching three seasons of the Orange is the New Black. It has a catchy theme song by Regina Spektor, which goes “taking steps is easy, standing still is hard”. It’s still bloody hard, even if I’m no longer 23 and have a better albeit fleeting understanding of the seasonality of life.

I think there’s a subtle difference between ‘comatose’ and ‘still’, which is why I’m dismissing ‘hatha yoga’ when I say the closest I get to stillness is when I’m running. It’s when I achieve what  Ultra Runner Girl describes as “the comfort of the void”:

“…when my legs are in motion, I’m there. I’m in the present – I’m at ‘more’, if only for a brief minute. This is the comfort of the void. In the pain, the suffering, the triumph, the struggle, my constant drive for ‘more’ is silenced. By moving forward in space, I allow myself to stand still in time.”  

It is in these moments when I admit that the only thing wrong with the present is that what it is followed by may go wrong. But after a week in an emotional state, my future tapped me on the shoulder and told about her frustration over always being the one that gets judged. I promised to give it a break – at least until I’m in that chapter. Right now I’m on that page where we watch fireworks with friends we didn’t know three months ago. I’m in that part where the autumn days have spilled over to the early winter, and the leaves have missed their cue to die. Their lingering red tones have been so awakening I could hear them. I could hear them in Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice: You. Are. Here. This is not a conviction. Your life is not happening somewhere else, and you’re not on hold until that moment comes. (If that’s not quite what the leaves are saying where you are, you can download the podcast here.)

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An imam once said that whatever is meant for me will not miss me, and whatever misses me wasn’t meant for me. A friend  once said that that was bullshit. So listening to both, I’m choosing to believe that, if you’re called for an adventure, it will come and find you wherever you are – so you better be there. In the meantime, I’ll keep my (bull)shit together.

PS. The other day I walked past my corner shop, like one does. And there they were, understated between your avocados and your mangos: small but ripening.

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Please Disable Your Out-of-Office

In my last post I said this blog was about to get really interesting, and I have more than exceeded expectations.  I’ve been back at work for over two months now, and in my current role as a ‘leadership and cross-cutting issues performance driver’, the following quote in my Facebook feed today resonated with me enough to write a blog post:

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

In a glass building in London it is very difficult to make “I ran around 80 km per week” sound like a good use of time – especially if that time consists of a full (financial) year. What, I didn’t found even one teeny-weeny start-up? Or a charity to capacity build  indigenous women to make bracelets perhaps? Taught English? Nope. I just was. In Peru. And occasionally I ran.

“Yes, but what did you actually do?”

The funny thing is why I’m not asking the people in the office the same question. To an extent, a time could have been stopped for the whole year – bar some changes to a desk booking system (which doesn’t work) and the canteen, and a few greyer heads, everything looks more or less like I left it over a year ago.

If anything, I feel even less motivated by this emperor’s new clothes business, where I currently am the one with the responsibility for booking meetings for the senior needle and doing the admin for the senior specialist thread. As you might have guessed from my fancy job title above.

Your identity pends on your job, and not on the other things you do (if you have time to do other things).  On my career break, I used my business card to get access, and in the Immigration forms I would write as my occupation the one that I was having a break from. This would make others see that I’m not just a single mum, I am someone. Whether that job has any point is beside the point, and while it makes me feel worthless it is why I’m worth something, as the Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently reminded.

I’ve learnt there are a lot of things in the world that make me happy and that are not my job – or maybe any job out there apart from being a judge at the Great British Bake Off, and that’s ok! Perhaps it’s not in your job’s job description to be fulfilling in every sense, just like it’s not your partner’s responsibility to maintain your expected levels of happiness (although there are  some minimum standards).  I’d like to reclaim the word ‘passion’ and ban it from every single CV. I love writing, running, chirimoyas and my daughter. None of them earns me a living, but does that mean they are not valuable for their own sake? Today I managed  to get up at 5.30 am (this is much harder when it’s colder, darker and waaaayy lonelier than in Lima) and run 10km catching the sunrise over Alexandra Palace. A few hours later, in the office I responded to a request to invite someone to a meeting who had already been invited by another colleague, so I sent a couple of apologetic emails to clear the confusion. A bit of email traffic back and forth. Then I printed  a total of 160 pages of documents (containing an options appraisal for instruments to inspect inspectors, or something in this vein), which nobody in the meeting read, so I chucked these in the confidential waste bin.

Economists may disagree, but I think my most productive moment of the day was before 6.30 am.

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On doing what you love and being productive, last month I ran with the guys from Haringey Good Gym. There are GG groups all over London and the UK and they basically do a weekly running session combined with a bit of community work. The picture is from their Facebook page

Disclaimer:

If you are from work and you’re reading this, I’d like to say that I’m completely passionate about my job, the every day challenges it brings, the people I meet, the value I bring and the sustainable difference I’m making. I thrive on solving every day problems with printers and meeting bookings. Just in case that message was somehow unclear.  

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