A dilettante

Monday and Tuesday this week, the whole department had an offsite to discuss the year past and to discuss and plot the strategy for the year ahead. These are a yawn-fest for many people, and there are certainly dull and long-winded moments, but generally, I enjoy hearing about what’s going on.

There were a lot of presentations, naturally. I was involved in two of them.

I was in the office on Friday when I found out that our team was required to present something on Monday about the wins and learnings of the last 12 months. We were meant to make it light-hearted. When I asked my manager to check if he’d done it, yet he said no. The next day — Saturday — I got an email at 9am asking me to do the presentation.

I was a bit peeved. I’m sympathetic to my manager, who is overworked and a good guy besides. In fact, I’d planned to contact him to say I could assist if he wanted me to. As I wasn’t aware of the full brief, I had no plans to actually do the whole thing, particularly after complaining at lunch the previous day that I was sick of being taken advantage of by the company. Then this!

I did it, of course. By chance, Cheeseboy couldn’t make our regular Saturday morning walk (we went Sunday). Time opened up for me, and I decided to do it straight away, knowing that I’d be thinking about it all weekend otherwise.

It wasn’t so hard in the end, and it was a good presentation — the manager was thrilled with it. I used a running theme of Donald Trump, who is always good for a laugh. Of course, once I’d done it, my manager said I had to present it as well.

I never liked presenting or public speaking in general, though I’ve done a bit of it over a period. Like most things, it’s never as hard as you think it’ll be. Except I felt as if I’d struggled — probably not helped when I found that the manager had changed a couple of things that didn’t make sense when I came to present them.

That night I went home fuming at myself. For me, it seemed yet another example of how out of tune I am these days when it comes to the working life.

On Tuesday, I had to do another presentation. This was much better because it was my subject, and I know it backwards. Funnily enough, it was probably the biggest hit of the day. In a break soon after, and over a drink at a bar when the day was concluded, I had all sorts of dev types come up to me with their eyes shining and asking all their geeky tech questions. I think all of them want to be involved in a project which kicks off after Easter.

Afterwards, I reflected on how my project is probably the single biggest in discussion. All these other projects had been presented by managers. I was the only non-manager, but mine is the most pivotal. Once more, it highlighted the gap between what I do and my role and salary — though I Did subtly comment on that in my presentation.

The other thing it brought home to me is how different I am generally these days. In the past, I’ve been dismissive of dilettantes, mostly because I reckon you have to commit one way or another. You’re either in or on the fence. But when it comes to my job these days, I’m on the fence.

I think back to how I was in my heyday. It may be an exaggeration, but I feel as if I was implacable and inexorable. I had few doubts, was determined and driven, and generally hard at it. It’s why I rose up the ranks — you’d reliably expect me to get things done and to a quality standard.

At no stage did I ever get carried away with what I was doing. I’d always reflect to others that I wasn’t curing cancer, that it wasn’t world peace I was striving to achieve. I had a healthy perspective, but I was fascinated by the process, and utterly driven to do it well.

I think it’s true, I’ve always been more motivated by the process than the outcome. Get the process right, then the outcome will look after itself, and it was the process that was challenging and interesting. I was good with the process because I was competitive and because it engaged my mind and because I had an ethos of always doing my best.

So, what’s changed?

Despite everything, I still retain the confidence, though it doesn’t extend as far. I don’t have the same fascination for the process I once had, and maybe that’s because I’ve circled this block many times or because I’ve been through a lot since those days, but most likely, it’s a bit of both.

Fundamentally, it’s a job to be done, but it doesn’t engage me as it did before. There are bit and pieces I’ll get caught up in because they’re puzzles to be solved. I’m much more interested in the creative side these days. I’m still driven to do the job well, which is residual pride. I’m quite shocked to find I’m not nearly as competitive as I used to be.

This leaves me as someone very capable still, but without so many of my colleagues’ fervour. Most of them are younger and putting a career together and so see a lot of themselves in what they’re doing — this is their meal ticket. I was never like that — too laid back in that regard, too much perspective — but I’m even less so now. There’s a distance between me and what I do. I am a dilettante.

I wonder, once more, what this really means for me. What do I really want to do? I have no desire to be like them. The general inclination is to go about my work quietly and efficiently and get out of my way. That’s maybe all I’m good for now.

Still, it’s better than most.

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