Out of sight…

Let me tell you about work. I’d be interested in your opinion.

I haven’t worked a full day since early July when I was diagnosed with cancer, though I worked a bunch of half days through the month. I haven’t received any pay from them since early in August when my sick leave ran out. I’ve been on unpaid leave since and have had no income pending insurance finally coming through later this month (other than a Centrelink benefit recently paid).

When the news of my cancer broke, I got calls and emails from the head of the Marketing department and the manager in charge of the Digital arm of that, where I sit.

They were sympathetic and understanding, made the right noises, and even sent me a small care package.

The last time I heard from either one of them was July 7, the Digital manager, who said he’d make a low-key announcement to the team advising them that I would be away for a while with an unspecified illness. I was fine with that – these things need to be managed – but it never happened.

Much to my annoyance, I occasionally am contacted by people unaware of my condition, regardless of the out-of-office on my account. I either fob them off or find myself telling them of the situation. It pisses me to repeat this unsavoury news again and again when it should have been properly handled.

I find it a little ironic that it pisses me off. I’ve always been one to proclaim my independence and sense of privacy. I kept worlds separate, letting only select people enter one from the other. And here I am complaining that the most intimate details of my life haven’t been shared (to be fair, all they need say is that H is crook, he’ll be off work for a while, we’ll keep you updated, leave him alone in the meantime…).

There’s very much a practical consideration in this, though. From a work perspective, don’t people need to know I’m unavailable? And I hate that the burden of sharing details has devolved to me in the absence of an announcement. I have enough on my plate. It feels unprofessional and vaguely disrespectful.

Quite aside from that, it’s been over 3 months since any management has been in contact with me. After that first flurry, no checking in, no wishing me luck heading into surgery, no checking how I went coming out of it, no cards, no flowers, no bowl of fruit, no nothing. I’m hardly surprised the dept head hasn’t been in contact, but I’d speak to the Digital head each day in the office, and even WFH, we’d catch up every week one way or another. But now, zilch. Out of sight, out of mind.

Am I wrong to think this unusual?

Do they have any idea of how I’m going? How could they?

I’m in contact with random people in the office I consider friends and sometimes help out my direct colleagues. My team manager checks in with me occasionally on a personal basis, but the last time was a month ago when I shared two lines with him.

It’s no secret that I’m disenchanted with my work. I was mighty pissed off when the pay-rise came through much less than mooted and without a word of explanation. My faith was wavering before then, but after, I felt betrayed. I realised that our values were misaligned. I value authenticity over pragmatism and believe it pays. And how can there be trust when actions don’t measure to words?

Then there’s this, and it’s easy to think they’ve practically forgotten me. Am I unreasonable?

Ideally, I wouldn’t return to work at the same place, though it’s not straightforward. I’d love to get a better-paid job at a more agreeable organisation, but it would have to be good. I’m due long-service leave in a bit over a year, and I’ve factored it into my future plans. It would be hard to sacrifice it.

I know I can’t really return to the role I had before. The world has moved too far, both for me and the business. I’m out of the loop, and it would take weeks to get up to speed again for about 50% of my role. I’ve no interest in it anyway. It seems terrible trivial in light of everything that’s happened to me in the last few months. That part has been backfilled – let them keep it.

That’s where the opportunity might be. I intend to confront the Digital manager on my return about what happened to my pay rise and promotion. The compromise might be an evolved role more to my liking and with a matching salary. That’d be enough to keep me until my long-service leave matures.

All of this is still a few months down the track – probably around January. Still.


It’s hard to know how long I will be off work, assuming that I get through the process successfully. Going by the doctor’s estimates, we’re probably looking at around Christmas to fully recover.

I can’t afford that without income protection insurance. I’ve just about used up my sick leave, and I have some annual leave up my sleeve. I haven’t been able to submit an application for the insurance because work had been tardy with putting through the EOFY pay rise. As you’re entitled to 75% of your salary in income protection, I had to wait for that.

I was on my way to the hospital on Wednesday when I got a call from my direct manager advising that the pay increase had come through. Deep breath.

We’ve been talking and debating about this for a long time. Lots of vague promises were made, but no firm commitments, but all of us were led to believe that the Product Owner role was mine.

That didn’t happen, and I have to wonder if it would have been different if I wasn’t off work with cancer? That might be stretching it, but I feel abandoned. Ultimately, the pay rise was $6K, which falls within the insulting range – bearing in mind this is the first increase for two years, and the Product Owner role would command an extra $30K-$40K. (I do get a $3K bonus).

I was furious. All the way into the city on the train, I fumed. It was a miserable day. Rain and hail and bitterly cold winds. I got off at Parliament station running a little late. Though it was the first day out of lockdown, there weren’t many people around.

There’s a particularly long escalator at Parliament. I started to climb it to make up time. About halfway up, I encountered an older woman with a collection of bags blocking the way. “Excuse me,” I said, expecting her to step aside and let me through.

Instead, she started haranguing me and wouldn’t stop. I had earbuds in listening to music and only picked up scraps of her diatribe, though why she was so angry, I couldn’t figure. She was animated and histrionic, speaking in a voice with an accent sounding like it might come from one of the weightlifting countries.

After about 30 seconds of this, abruptly, I had enough of it. I felt my anger rise, stoked by the disappointment of an inadequate pay rise, and probably concern at my condition. Without taking out my earbuds, I said: “Shut up, you old bag.”

This was very out of character. Though it felt good, it’s rare I let my emotions rule like that. It’s not that I’m pure at heart. I can be very blunt. I’m happy to speak my mind when the situation calls for it and can be very cutting, even coarse, though almost always with cool control. And I’m very familiar with the curt, masculine language we men will occasionally exchange.

For all that, I’m well mannered and polite. I’m of that generation and class where it comes naturally. Even now, I will address elders using a pronoun, unless otherwise permitted. I open doors – regardless of gender, and let people go before me, and hold open lift doors for those coming. On a crowded train, I’ll give up my seat to those deserving. As a matter of course, I say please and thank-you, and believe such simple grace is a mark of civilisation.

Never before in my life have I opened as I did to an older woman, no matter how discourteous she was. Do I regret it? No. But I doubt I’ll do it again.

Not that it mattered. I might never have said a thing, for it didn’t interrupt her flow, which she continued all the way up to the top. But it felt good to vent.

The upshot of this is that I’ll not have as much to live off when my income protection comes through. I’ve started the application process by submitting a request to reduce the waiting period to 30 days – that would fall due on. August 7. I was unable to submit an application for insurance because their systems were down. Either way, it’ll take weeks before it gets approved – probably when I’m in hospital.

Right now, the right side of my face has puffed up. I feel my eye closing. It worries me. I’ll be on the phone to the hospital tomorrow.

When doing the right thing is wrong

I want to write about something else, but there’s nothing else to write about right now. I’m officially on sick leave now. It comes after another night when I was woken by head pain. It’s the same every night lately. At about 2am, when the latest of the painkillers has worn off, I wake with jolting pain. Much as I don’t want to, I now taking another painkiller, so I can get back to sleep.

I live on painkillers. Every 4-5 hours, I pop another one. Unfortunately, they seem to be slower acting these days and not as effective as before. I suppose that’s because I’ve taken so many many. The most effective have been Nurofen, though I’ve stopped taking them now for the damage they can do. Panadol is barely effective, and the supposedly extra-strength variety prescribed by the doctor does nothing but make me sleepy.

I used the term head pain before, rather than headache. That’s because, while some of the pain is like a headache, other pain isn’t – in my cheek, in my teeth and my gum. That pain feels as if there’s something bad inside me which reverberates with rottenness.

The pain has got worse since the weekend. I was encouraged coming into the weekend because it felt like the symptoms were becoming less severe. Then, from Monday, the pain ramped up again. Yesterday was a painful day. So is today. The painkillers don’t take away the pain. They take the edges from it, diffuse the sharpness, numb it to some extent. But it’s always there, which is half the problem. Throughout the day, the sense of pain ebbs and flows according to where I’m at with the painkillers. There are times, such as now, when it feels no more than a dull inconvenience – but when it sharpens, I don’t want to move.

I see my GP tomorrow, and I’m going to ask for a different prescription painkiller. I’m also going to ask if it’s possible that my surgery can be brought forward. It’s awful living like this.

I’m on sick leave because it’s easier, and probably because I should be. I’ve got some of that silly macho attitude that if it’s only pain, then I can work through it. You can’t, though, really. It’s distracting. You can’t think straight. You get worn out trying to sit straight and concentrate. In reality, you can do bits and pieces of work, but then you need a break.

That was the original arrangement, but it didn’t work. I wish it had, but I feel a little resentful too. It would be nice if someone checked in with me when I’m so clearly struggling. I get the odd platitude, and in the next breath, they’re asking me to do things I don’t feel comfortable committing to. I can only do half a job currently, but if I’m there, they figure I can do a full job, and in the end, it’s easier to do no job at all.

I was telling a friend of a memory that came back to me thinking about all this.

About 20 years ago, mum had a working bee organised to work in the garden on the same day I had a wedding to attend. It would have been February and a bloody hot day. Rather than skiving off altogether, I joined them in the morning to work. It must have been about 40 degrees by 10am, and it was bloody hard work. I worked for a couple of hours and then had to leave. I went home, had a shower, put my suit on, then headed off to the wedding in Brighton.

For years afterwards, the guys I left behind – my two brothers-in-law – would give me a hard time for abandoning them to the hard work while I went off to have ‘fun’.

I got pretty pissed off by this. I had an obligation to be at the wedding, and that was that. I could easily have skipped joining them for a token couple of hours, but I did it from a sense of fellowship. I did all that I reasonably could but was resented for it.

The irony is that after the wedding we went back to the reception centre to find the air-conditioning had broken down. We sweltered through a hot meal in close proximity of a hundred others sweating in their fine clothes. It was memorable for the wrong reasons.

I sensed something similar to this with work. In hindsight, it would have been a lot easier had I just taken the time for myself rather than try and help out. You’ve got an excuse if you’re not there, but when you’re about but can do only so much, they start looking at you sideways. And then, since you’re there, they start asking more of you.

It’s no fun to me being on sick leave. I lay in bed or on the couch. I’m not going anywhere. I’d rather do some work (and have, actually, on the quiet). I don’t want to be useless, but I can’t do everything I could before. If I can, I will, and if I get a painkiller tomorrow that allows that, then I’ll see what I can do.

In the meantime, I can’t help but think my feelings about the work environment have been validated. I don’t think it’s the place for me.

The virtues of shit cracking

After the disappointment last week with work, things have moved quickly.

As I said I would, I scoped out a bunch of potential new jobs. There’s quite a bit around, actually, and I found about a dozen without going too far. So far, I’ve applied for one and would’ve applied for more but for developments at work.

I was pretty unhappy on Friday when I was told the pay rise and promotion long-mooted now seemed less likely. I caught myself before I swore all together, but something may have slipped out. My disappointment, even my anger, was clear.

In retrospect, I reckon my manager went back to his manager and said, Houston, we’ve got a problem. They may have thought they could get away with low-balling me, but the fact of the matter is that they can’t really do without me – for the next 6 months, at least. I made it pretty clear that I’d be looking elsewhere if I didn’t get something acceptable, and I reckon the message was passed on: H has cracked the shits. Turns out I’ve got more power than I thought – without me, their projects crash.

So what happened next is that a meeting was stuck in my calendar to discuss ‘future plans’. I figured it would be largely a strategic discussion, with some conversation about where I fit into it. Nup, it was all about me.

I’m not sure even now if my manager got it wrong and gave me a bum steer last week, or if in the mad scramble to keep me on board, they reconsidered their position vis a vis me. Whatever, it works out pretty well the same way.

They started out by referencing the ‘promises’ they’d made me before backtracking a little and saying, no, not promises – intentions. Once more, whatever – you either stump up, or you don’t. No commitments were made to me, but it was also made clear to me that everything was in play still – including the product ownership role (which, in my heart of hearts, I’m not sure I want – but would be a feather in my cap considering where I’ve come from).

The uncertainty was because the budgets haven’t been finalised yet, and the re-structure they’re aiming to put in place hasn’t been approved. I could accept that as I’ve been involved in budget discussions and put my case forward.

They couldn’t commit to anything as yet, but the underlying message was that I’d be looked after. I have no idea how well looked after, and as far as I’m concerned, all possibilities are open.

They reckon they’ll get back to me by early next month with a firm offer. Until then, I’ll continue to look at and apply for jobs. Push comes to shove, I’ll take the best offer on the table, more or less. Nothing is certain.

Agency and identity

I got called wholesome yesterday. I was speaking with a guy I used to work with, telling him about the latest developments. He encouraged me to go out and look for another job, telling me that I had a lot to offer. Then he dropped the W-word. That was one of my strengths, he said.

I’m pretty definite that no one has ever called me wholesome before. In my own mind, I have a picture of the wholesome type, rosy-cheeked, straight as a die and ever courteous. It doesn’t entirely gel with my conception of myself – I’m not rosy-cheeked to start with. And while I’m courteous, I’m also blunt and assertive, opinionated and occasionally sarcastic.

I figured he meant it in a particular way – honest, well-mannered and of good character. I’m happy to accept those traits – I am well-mannered because it was how I was brought up to be, and I believe in being honest. And I recognise that there’s a side of me that a lot of mothers would love to have their daughter bring home – polite, respectful and with reassuringly measured intelligence. And I come from a good family 😉

But all of us are a complex combination of qualities that are in perpetual motion, shifting according to circumstance and environment. We all try to project a persona, often different depending on who we’re with – and then there’s the view we have of ourselves. Often, I think, that’s at great odds with how the world sees us.

You have to wonder why it matters. It’s an indulgence, but it’s all a piece of the human frailty all of us possess. It’s what drives us on, though, what fuels our expectations and gives rise to the decisions that we make. It becomes our identity, but without that, who are we?

Case in point is the situation I find myself in at work currently. I’m aggrieved because I believe I’m being short-changed, symptomatic of a lack of respect – or so I reckon. There are practical considerations in that – I need more money, and I deserve it – but there’s also the ego and deeper psychological scarring at play.

I referred yesterday to how this has been a trigger event for me. As my first bitter emotions subsided, I was left with a clearer idea of why it felt so personal – and it relates to the time that I was homeless.

Before I was homeless, I was confident and capable and rarely doubted my ability to succeed. I knew I was smart, but I also believed I had the will and energy to manifest destiny for myself. It may seem naive now, but I don’t think it’s uncommon. Besides, I had good reason to believe it – I had pulled myself up by my bootstraps and made a middling success of my career. Cue Jaws music.

Then, of course, everything changed, for reasons long described.

When you’re unemployed and homeless, when you’re broke and rely on the mercy of others to get by, there’s a lot that goes through your mind. It’s a real battle just to remain on an even keel – to get up in the morning and try again and believe that in the face of 99 failures, the 100th time will succeed. It’s more complex and messy than I could ever hope to describe, but I was lucky in the end that I did finally succeed in getting out of it – though it was closer to the 400th attempt.

One of the things I remember is the sense of being an outsider – banished from normal society and foreign to the comforting routines and rituals of domestic existence. I felt different from everyone and not in a good way.

A part of that is an absolute sense of powerlessness. I felt cast on the winds of fate, with little I could do to change direction. I felt invisible and irrelevant and entirely unimportant. I became very aware of how small I was, and I hated it.

When finally I got out of that situation, it was in the smallest way. I started at the bottom again, and I was relieved to have that. Gradually, I worked myself back somewhere towards where I used to be, though still well short. As that began to unfold, I felt increasing angst, reminded of how much I had lost and how different things were. More than anything else, I was frustrated by the lack of agency in my life. When you’re digging yourself out of a deep hole, the margins are small. You feel as if you could tumble back anytime, and that limits your options. Even today, I feel far distant from who I was before and still feel outside of life.

And this is why I’m triggered now. I’ve worked hard to regain something for myself, and I deserve more than what I’m being given. That’s not entitlement; that’s just plain fact. Unfortunately, what’s right and fair plays little part in the ebbs and flows of life, and you feel it most when you’re at the bottom.

I’ve been at the bottom. I’m trying to climb. All I want now is to be justly rewarded for that. Instead, I’m being denied for spurious and pragmatic business reasons. But what can I do? Once more, I have that sense of being powerless – of being exploited, in fact. It feels so wrong to me…so evil, in a way.

I guess it’s always been like this, but I was always too young or too confident to know it. Now that I’ve fallen back, I can see it and understand the deliberate nature of it. What is right comes second to what is pragmatic, and people like me – without agency – just have to cop it.

That’s why, for my self-respect, I have to get out. If I give way to it, they know they have me – and I know they have me, too. I refuse to be powerless. I’ve come this far; I can’t fall back.

The garden path…

I have patches like this when my dreams are fertile and vivid. They resonate through me and provoke wonder and thought. Mostly I don’t remember my dreams, but at these times they come fresh to me every morning.

I had at least two interesting dreams last night, one of which I want to describe for you.

We live in a futuristic, utopian society, a feature of which is that men can carry children, though not to term. By some medical wizardry, men can carry the growing babe in their stomach for the first two months of pregnancy before somehow it is transferred to the mother.

I have carried one child like this before, and it was a happy, joyous experience. Now I have another. The wife, mother, whatever you wish to call her, doesn’t feature in the dream at all. I am light-hearted as I make my way towards the medical clinic for a check-up, stopping on the way to take in a beautiful vista.

In the clinic, a doctor takes me aside and explains all is not as should be. Something has gone wrong, and it appears that I have misinterpreted some earlier advice that has led to this. The pregnancy appears doomed.

I am devastated by the news. I’ve gone from being buoyant with joy to terribly sad in the blink of an eye. I shake my head and wander away before being called back by the manager of the clinic. He leads me into a room out the back, and we sit down. He expresses his condolences at the news and apologises for it. I explain to him that I think it was my fault; I didn’t listen as I should have, distracted by the happy news that we were to have a second child.

He is kind and sympathetic. He has a gruff but compassionate manner. He looks like the undercover cop from Hill Street Blues, if you can believe that. He assures me I did nothing wrong. The responsibility is all theirs, and he can’t possibly express how sorry they are for my tragedy.

His kind manner does me good. For a moment, the sense of personal tragedy lifts and I feel grateful to him. The dream ends.

The dream follows from the news yesterday afternoon that the long-mooted promotion and pay rise due to me come July is no longer. I suspect it never was. Instead, I believe they were happy to give me vague assurances hoping to string along because they needed me onside.

This was revealed to me by my direct manager, who shared a cab with the head of the section on Wednesday night when they discussed me. It seems nothing is in the budget for me, and there was no indication that anything more would come my way. It’s not definite or confirmed – surely, they must give me something? – but I trust it to be generally accurate. I need more than a token gesture.

We were on a Teams call when he told me. I didn’t quite explode at the news, but something bubbled over in me. As I explained to him, as I had before, I was disinterested in titles, though the title they had mooted is something I have been doing for a year in all but name. To grant me the title would force a substantial pay rise to go with it, and so they refuse to give me the title. Fine, just give me the money.

I was furious. No, it wasn’t about the title. And though the money was bloody important, it wasn’t entirely about that either. It was trust and respect and loyalty and the brazen disregard of it that stuck in my craw.

I’m an old-fashioned guy, I told my manager, I believe in these things. I’m happy to give them but expect to have that reciprocated. When it’s not – when they lead me down to garden path with honeyed words, leading me nowhere – then all bets are off.

This is a trigger event for me, for complex reasons I’ll write about another time. I’ve realised that my future lies elsewhere.

And it was this event that led to the dream last night. The promise of a promotion and pay rise was the child in my belly – something grand, latent and yet due to be. Then, naturally, the news that the baby was no more – and was it my fault? Had I got it wrong? But the kindly doctor at the end set me straight – I had every right to expect better. I’ve been failed.

That’s what I think, Freud.

Never be the same

Now that we’ve had 30-odd days free from locally acquired Covid infection, we’re all clear to return to our offices to work in Melbourne. That’s the theory, though it appears very few are getting anywhere close to that. There’s still some caution and uncertainty, and after working from home so long, most of us have become used to it. Tap any average Joe on the shoulder, and chances are that he’ll tell you that he’s happy to return to the office for a day a week, maybe two, but any more than that would be a return to the dark ages.

I’m much the same. I can manage two days a week at a stretch, but just the thought of anything more than that feels hard. We’ve all settled into routines working from home and found ways to make it feasible. It’s far from perfect – I’d rather meet face to face than via a screen, and managing projects with disparate groups of people is a real challenge.

But then, there’s the time saved not having to commute and the convenience of being close to home. There’s the option for parents to pick up their kids from school and to have family meals at a respectable hour. Its loosened boundaries and introduced flexibility that was unimaginable a little more than a year ago. It’s also blurred the boundaries too, but nothing is perfect.

I don’t think we’ll ever get close to the 100% target ever again. The working convention broke in this pandemic. Forced to make do and work from home, we discovered it was actually possible and liberating after generations of workers making the drear commute to and from work each day, like automatons.

Still, there has been a general drift back to the office as the circumstances have improved. In my office, we are rostered for one day a week, though it’s not mandatory. There’s an acceptance that things have changed and that it’s permanent. Logistics play into it also. It’s no small thing gearing up for a return to the office after a year away from it. I was involved in the development of a return to work app late last year. We’re now hot-desking, though that introduces disinfecting challenges. And, even if we were all made to return to the office, there’s no longer enough desks for us all.

I’ve been back to the office perhaps half a dozen times this year, most recently last Wednesday. It’s a strange feeling. We return as a team, but across a floor that could accommodate perhaps 120, no more than 10-15 sit. I visited the 18th floor on Wednesday, which is where I used to sit. This contains the call centre normally, and closer to 150 people back in the day. On Wednesday, there was not a single soul to be seen. Tumbleweeds drifted down the empty corridors.

My brief experience working back in the office is that it’s a bit pointless. At this stage, it feels tokenistic. There’s no real benefit to being back in the office when the people you need to speak to and meet with are still at home. The idea of returning as (small) teams seems sensible, but in reality, has little real value. Certainly, we take advantage of the situation to schedule meetings and planning sessions, but they’re small plusses. There needs to be a more sophisticated solution.

Nonetheless, I’m glad to be back, though – out of practice – getting myself out of bed and organised, for it is more of a struggle. A day away from home and in the office adds a bit of variety to my schedule and introduces a hint of unpredictability in what is otherwise a very predictable routine.

I catch the train in the morning as I would before, only now I wear a mask, and every day is Friday casual. I sit by the window with my headphones on, just as I ever did, but even with the trains are getting fuller, there’s a distinctly different feel to it. I feel like an outlier.

By comparison to the days before, the city is quiet. The shop where I used to buy my coffee has been closed for a year. Many other shops are also shut, and the streets are not nearly as busy as before.

I’m glad to go out on my lunch break and visit places I would before, but it feels very different. In days gone by, I almost had a weekly routine – lunch one day with a friend, coffee with another the next day, then a selection of shops and stores – and the market! – I would rotate through one week to the next. In retrospect, it felt like a system, a habit almost, comforting in its predictability. But then, most things were predictable then (and sometimes I would complain at it).

These days I can only go for lunch with a workmate. Cheeseboy unexpectedly cycled past me in Swanston street the other day on the way to work, but in general, the friends I would catch up with for lunch or coffee are home now. Some of the shops I would visit are no longer there. And in general, there’s none of the bustle or urgency I remember, none of the big-city vibe of people rushing from here to there, the clang of tram bells, the toots of car horns, the ring of the GPO clock – everything has slackened.

There are people, but no-one’s in a hurry, and anyway, there are only half the people there were. Everything has slowed. You get none of that jolt of being part of such a large, living mechanism. The blood isn’t flowing as it did before, and the beat is much slower.

It will improve. No doubt, more and more people will return to the office in some form, and that’s a good thing. It will liven up again – but I don’t think things will be the same again, or not for years, anyway. Under cover of a pandemic, a revolution has occurred. Things have to be re-worked – re-imagined – if we want to get back that vibrancy.

I’ll be curious to see how all this has panned out in five years time.

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.

The working day

Whether in lockdown or not, my working day at home doesn’t change much.

I start at about 8.30. As I would if I was in the office, I check out my emails and messages to start with, replying and following-up as needs be. That eases me into the day, though there’s every possibility that I’ll be contacted through Teams at any point.

When I’ve done that, generally I’ll check out the status of any service desk tickets outstanding, and the new one’s coming in. That’s less of a focus these days, but I’m still responsible for making sure any digital-related tickets raised by the business get looked after.

The guys are pretty good, and I rarely need to get involved. Generally, they’ll pick up the tickets as they come in and handle them. Mostly, I’m just checking that everything is up to date and the priorities are being looked after. Occasionally I’ll post a question to one of the guys, or ask someone to look at something. Sometimes, I’ll have to forward a ticket to someone else or go back to the caller seeking clarification or giving instructions.

Then there are meetings, which are every day and occasionally all the time. Every day, there’s a stand-up at 10.15 where disparate members from different teams tune in and give updates on what’s going on. I won’t say I hate these meetings, but I find them a waste of time mostly. It’s rare the activities of others have any effect on what I’m doing, and for me, I’m letting people know what’s going on from good manners.

Not that my manners are exemplary. Occasionally, I’ll skip this meeting. Other times, though I seem to be one of the central figures in these stand-ups, I’ll opt to listen in without contributing anything. That’s because so often what I say today will be the same as what I said yesterday, and very similar to what I say tomorrow. Mostly I do contribute, however, though rarely with great detail – that would only confuse them as I’m left field for most. Often I’ll throw in some wit, just to prove I’m not a drone.

Today, I had an earlier meeting at 9.30. This is a weekly meeting with one of the app developers checking in on what’s happening and reviewing current issues.

At 10.30 today I made a cup of tea, as I do most mornings, then I caught up with my immediate manager updating him in detail on the POC project that’s kicking off. I’m pretty candid with him, and he knows there’s a chance I’ll be heading off. We discussed contingencies and back-ups. Almost certainly the POC would be canned or postponed, which would be a big thing for the business.

I checked in with a few others after that by Teams, following up on random issues and updates.

As I do most mornings, I then left to walk up to the local shops. Today it was simple. I went to the supermarket and bought a few groceries, then headed back. Yesterday I stopped off for a flat white on the way back. Today I didn’t bother.

Back at home, I put the TV on in the background and tuned into the daily Covid press conference. I don’t do that much these days – I don’t have the stomach for the journo’s – this was just a change. I glanced at it occasionally and might stop for a moment, but it’s in a separate room from my desk. After a few minutes, I put it on mute and made a call to the vendor I work with.

I spoke to him for about 15 minutes discussing minor issues and getting updates. After catching up with a few little things, I killed some time knowing there was a steering committee meeting at 12.30. I updated the notes for that, only to get an update at 12.20 that the meeting was being put-off until tomorrow.

Today, I decided I would have dinner for lunch – that is, the main meal at lunchtime and something lighter for dinner. I reheated last nights cumin beef with rice and sat down to eat that. The tennis was on the TV, muted. I sat there listening to an audiobook, which I continued to listen to after I finished eating. Audiobooks are a big part of my daily routine, just to break it up a bit.

Back at my desk, I interacted with a few more on Teams, checked emails, etc. Yesterday I had back-to-back meetings about this time, first, with the other vendor conducting the POC. Then another meeting – a stand-up – with the team, which we have every second day. I’m much more involved in this because it’s our stuff. That went for about 30 mins.

Today, I have no more meetings, which is unusual, and a blessing as well, but it’s only the case because another of the POC meetings – workshops really – was cancelled. There’s another meeting I’ve opted not to attend because it barely relates to me and I don’t think I can contribute anything. And it’s 2 hours, which is way too long for an online meeting.

I sat down before and read a couple of chapters of a new book after making myself a coffee. Sometime in the next hour, I’ll give Rigby his daily walk. After 4, I’ll mix a drink – half the time these days, it’s non-alcoholic. By this time I’m wrapping up loose ends and hoping nothing big pops up. I’ll ask questions and answer others. I’ll check in to make sure everything is on track. I’ll begin to plan the next day, though I generally know the meetings I’ll be attending.

Often, I would get dinner started between 4.30 and 5, backwards and forwards from my desk. That won’t happen today. Generally, I’ll finish up at about 5.15, though often I’ll go back and respond to late emails or queries. I’m connected by phone as well, so I always know what’s going on. As I prepare dinner, I’ll listen to my audiobook through my Sonos until dinner is served, and the evening stretches out in front of me.

Things to change

Sunday in lockdown, but it feels little different from a typical Sunday. I’m tired and lazy. I shamble around, doing this, poking into that. A few chores, some reading, a brief but cathartic spat online, then half an hour looking at old Leunig cartoons for balance (the irony!).

All these months, in my over-thinking way, I’ve scurried down the rabbit holes of my mind searching for an explanation, and maybe even a solution, only to awake today to the simple and obvious truth I had so long overlooked: I have nothing to live for, and nothing to look forward to.

I guess, in a way, I knew that, though never so bluntly, and with many detours and dead-ends. All the perambulations of my over-active mind boiled down to this, and many of what I thought might need boiled down to the same thing: I need something to live for; something to look forward to.

For the moment, my best opportunity is in change. It feels a desperate hope – change does not make more meaning necessarily, distraction is temporary, and what starts fresh becomes stale in the end. If change is to come, I need to find something in the change I can cling to and find meaning.

I know now that the shortlist for the job I applied to is down to two ‘strong candidates’, and I’m one of them. The clubhouse leader must be my rival for the job as they have the application experience I lack. They’ve been the favourite from day one. But I’m in the mix, which says that I offer something else in comparison. There’s still another interview to come, and so nothing is played out yet – but I feel in myself as if this time the job will be offered to me. I’m ready to accept it.

The head of digital at work called me the other day, and we discussed what’s to come. He’s aware that I’m unhappy and frustrated at the situation with my salary. He explained that the pay rise they tried for won’t happen because it’s ‘out of cycle’, and no-one is getting a pay rise. He might be able to finagle an alternative in March, but he could guarantee something in July – though no numbers mentioned.

I’m about to kick-off a pretty serious project at work. In ways, I look forward to it. It’s a transformative project and challenging at any time, but more so now that the rest of the business has decided they’re too busy to assist and it’s all up to me. I like that in a way – it’s guaranteed to get the best out of me because the odds are stacked the other way. I can do it.

It pisses me off though, too. It’s the glib refusal to buy into the work that riles me. It’s the smug washing of hands and the belief that I’ll get it done and they can pick it up at the end of it. It’s flattering in a way, the faith that I’ll manage. But it’s pretty bloody rude, too, especially with what they’re paying me. I’m at the stage when I think, you want this, you gotta put some skin in the game.

My inclination before was that, given a choice, I’d probably stick around in my current job. When the money comes, it’ll probably be better. Plus I have long service leave just around the corner. Plus the challenge, and the satisfaction of steering home a niche product. I feel different now.

I’ve come to think that changing my job might be my best chance to get out of the rut I’m in. I have concerns that maybe it’s not a great idea to start a new role while in lockdown and with the low-levels of energy I have. But then, it might just work the other way. And the money is better than I thought originally, and the difference in getting an extra 40 or 50K becomes marginal. Either way, it’ll make a difference.

I have to be offered the job, and now I’ve put it all on paper like this I’ve probably jinxed it. But anyway. If I choose to leave then the big project I’m about to start will probably be canned because there’s no-one else who can do it. I’m sort of okay with that – I need to shrug off the sense of duty that makes life harder for me. They had their chance, and more than one. This has been coming for a while, and this time I have to look after myself.

Inshallah. I won’t know for a few weeks yet and I’ll manage, either way. My mind is not yet settled, and may not until I know. Something has to change, that much I do know.