Tag Archives: career

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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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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Decision

“I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it”

Jeanette Winterson (‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal’)

It is back to work tomorrow. After a longest arduous return flight from Lima via Miami and New York (why, or why do I need to go through the immigration and homeland security, when I don’t intend to, don’t want to, don’t plan to spend more than three hours in the US – two of which are spent in that precise queue to get through the immigration and homeland security in order to continue my journey? #Free consultancy advice # public sector efficiency), I got home yesterday and  picked up my little girl from Gatwick this morning.

Think post holiday blues. It seems that London is not where either of us would like to be right now. She misses ‘vaari’ (grandpa in Finnish) and I miss  –  writing these two words feels strangely audacious – my boyfriend, mi novio in Peru. I fear that getting back not just to work, but to the “career”, means drifting further away from the ideas that only a week ago were alive and kicking in South America, leaving them behind in some dreamy surreal distance.  After a few days, it will seem completely normal again to talk about “creativity” and “passion” in the same sentence as “revenue optimisation” and “powerpoint”.

Perhaps Dulce Compañía (sweet company) wasn’t the best title for a blog on management consulting and lone parenting. Which is kind of good because I like the name more than the concept, that I dream will be rewritten as a blog of a mother and cakeshop owner in Lima.

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A cut-out from a past Stylist on the fridge door. A few months ago I was only dreaming of having something to decide about.

(The fridge magnet I bought on my visit to ChocoMuseo in Lima. In the euphemistic arrangement there is Johnny Depp, the famous Peruvian actor, devouring chocolate from lovely Julie Binoche.)

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