The life that might have been

It’s funny how things pop up in clusters. Perhaps it was my visit to court yesterday, and the realisation that I had possibly avoided conflict that led me to recall in bed last night another moment of conflict years ago. Funnily enough, this morning at work there was another allusion to the very same moment.

I was young. Very young from the perspective today. I was full of beans then, confident, even arrogant at times, and at times strident. I’d left one job at the NAB refusing a posting from IOV, where I was happily ensconced, to another of the city branches. In a way it was a promotion, but in my wilful way I disliked being shifted around the board like a pawn. To my surprise I found myself sitting in the manager’s office rejecting the proposition outright. I became a bit of a cause celebre among my workmates, surprised at my defiance, but supportive at the same time. None of them wanted to put in such a position either.

Unfortunately it meant I was out of job. If I wasn’t going to do what they directed me to do the bank directed that I couldn’t work there at all.

As it happened I fell into a new job very quickly. It was at a place called Carrington Confirmers, a sort of merchant bank that specialised in trade finance. I’d been trained in that, had good experience and was a perfect fit for them. Carrington’s have long since been absorbed by another company, but back in the day had nice offices at 484 St Kilda Road. I had a desk by the window overlooking St Kilda Road and Albert Park lake. It was a good job, and probably better than I realised at the time.

I was there for about 9 months, and did well. From being one among many at the bank here I became the focal point. I enjoyed the job. It was full on, but I loved the urgency of it – often times I’d be on 3-4 different phone calls at once. The client managers were all senior ex-bank managers, and most of them bonza blokes. Two of them particularly took me under their wing. They were lovely characters full of stories and good cheer. I think they enjoyed my brash cockiness, thankfully leavened with a sense of humour. The MD was a very patrician type. The woman I reported to indulged me like a favourite aunt, seeing me as a kind of mercurial talent, amusing at times, annoying at others, but mostly pretty effective – and fun to be around.

I had a lot of things happening at the time – you do when you’re that age. In some ways I was quite different then to what I am now. Without realising it then I think I had been pegged to go much further. The world was at my feet, in time I would become an account manager in my own right, and beyond that the sky was the limit.

I was tall, and that time, very good looking. I was brash and smart, social and witty and inventive. In my job at the bank a co-worker had told me I should have my own radio or talk show. I talked a lot more than I do now. Over the years I’ve not just matured, I’ve become more dour also – though capable still of the same performance.

All was going well. Life was good at a Merchant Bank. There was plenty of money going around, it was the late eighties and extravagance was still a norm. My grooming had begun, meeting with clients and occasionally taking them out for lunch. Then it happened.

One day one of the managers came to me in the middle of a rush. Phones were ringing all over and I was racing to get things sorted out. The manager was a little guy, pleasant enough in his way, a tad bland, good natured but probably my least favourite amongst them all. Looking back I suspect I didn’t respect him as much as I did the others, and that, combined with my own sense of self-importance led to the fatal moment.

He had a query for me, standing there as I went from one call to another, butting in much to my impatience, and obvious displeasure. Rumour has it that I told him to fuck off. I don’t remember myself, that part of it blurred out over the years, though the rumour may be true. I recall seeing him as an annoyance, like a fly I waved away. Whatever I said it made the room stop. He looked at me in disbelief, then said: “what did you say?”

By now I realised the gravity of the situation. Phones continued to ring, but all eyes were on me. Reluctantly I answered his question, and dutifully repeated the very words I had just uttered to him. Well, you can guess the outcome of all that. It was not my finest moment.

I was out of a job again, much to the regret of everyone it seemed, but something that had to happen. Had I begged forgiveness perhaps I might have survived, but that was not in my nature then. I knew I’d done the wrong thing, I would take it like a man.

All of this crossed my mind last night, the first time in many years. It set off a depressing train of thought as I tried to sleep. I thought of the other times I’ve shot myself in the foot, most notably when I knocked back the job as Commercial Manager at Bupa, a job virtually created for me, and quite possibly could have set me up.

I’ve been wilful at times, but if there’s a consistent thread it’s that I refuse to be directed. My actions come from an excess of individualism. I don’t want to do the expected thing, don’t want to be predictable, have no desire to be shunted anywhere – no matter how advantageous it might be for me.

It’s cost me. But it’s also led to an interesting life. The unexpected life.

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