So it is

I caught up for a long night of drinking on Friday with Cheeseboy and JV.

One of the first things discussed with JV is what was happening with the role I’d applied for at his work. They’d sent me an email midweek saying they’d be in touch by the end of the week, but I’d heard nothing. If you remember, I was one of the final two contenders. JV told me he’d spoken to the hiring manager during the week and been told they were going with the other candidate. They liked me plenty, but they thought I might get bored in the role – another case of being perceived as overqualified for the role.

There’s a possibility that another, more senior role, may become vacant which they’ll consider me for.

None of this is official and anything could happen still, but I’ll take this at face value.

Earlier in the day, I’d pulled the pin on a long-running project we couldn’t get over the line. The project had been on the books for 6 months, but progress had been marred by the vendor’s incompetence, issues with Facebook, and now, a looming black-out period. Underpinning all this was a general lack of faith or trust that the vendor could deliver and support a viable application.

I’ve had qualms for months but pressed on knowing that this was a priority for the business. It’s been an uncomfortable position. There was never a strong buy-in by those who would use the application, who were often unhelpful, and shared a lack of confidence in the vendor. For the last couple of months, I’ve had to push through that, but I had to make a call on Friday.

It’s not easy to terminate a project you’ve invested so much time and effort into, even if it’s unpopular. Often it’s the wisest thing you can do, however, because to deploy something you don’t believe in is asking for trouble.

I had to call up the big manager and explain the situation. I presented the facts to him, and he agreed we couldn’t go on. He sounded very disappointed, and I felt full of regret. I hung up the phone thinking it was the right call but wondering if there was anything I could have done to save it. It felt like a failure – this is the first time I’ve ever done this.

While I was on the phone with him, he asked how I was and reported that they were proceeding with what he called ‘option two’. He’d spoken to HR and the upshot – I believe – is that my role will be re-classified, and extra dollars will come my way as a result. That will be welcome, though I doubt it’ll be the full whack I’m hoping for come the next financial year.

Throughout all of this, I began to wonder if I had the wrong end of things. I don’t know why or how, but despite my disappointment at the failed project, or because of it, perhaps, I felt energised. I wanted to do more. Above all, I wanted to extend my brain cells. One of the things I miss is the opportunity to be creative. It’s something that comes easily to me and has been very beneficial in my career for many years.

These days, my role seems more to manage than to create things. I think it’s that lack of creative opportunity that has left me feeling a bit useless. Creativity is really my strong point – the ability to imagine how things connect and to put together the framework by which a little is leveraged into a lot. I felt as if the time was right for me to pitch those ideas again.

Work has little idea of this aspect of me because they’ve barely bothered to look. I can die far more than what they ask of me, and perhaps that’s the answer – to do more rather than less.

This impulse coincided with a return of my writing. I’ve barely been able to write for months. I’ve felt uninspired and unmotivated. Generally, I’ve been too flat to make an effort, and when I did, it was a grind. Then, in a hurry, it came back to me Thursday night as I lay in bed. I’d turned the light off to sleep, but as I lay there, fragments of the story I’m working on came to mind, where I embellished it lying the dark.

This is not the first time this has happened, and I know now that the trick is to put it on paper while you have it, for by morning, it will be gone. Three times then, I switched on the lamp beside my bed and scribbled down the words in my head. I felt illuminated and ultimately grateful.

By now, I know this is how it works for me. I go through writing seasons. It’s hard, and then it becomes easy, without any real understanding of why. I’m barren of ideas, even belief, and then I become fertile again without warning. So it is. So everything is.

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.

Building my legacy

There was a TV program on Tuesday night called Building a Legacy which I tuned into and loved. Fundamentally it was about architecture – one of my favourite topics – and featured notable Australian homes built over the last 80 odd years. It told the architect’s story and the inspirations for the buildings and took us on a tour through them, with interviews with the architect or, more often, their surviving relatives or current residents.

There were some beautiful homes, some quite simple, and others quite bold. I love these things so much that I felt a sense of yearning as I watched. I’ve thought that given my druthers I might have elected to become an architect instead. It appeals to a sense in me perfectly combined of creativity and science. I missed that boat, but as I watched on Tuesday night, I thought to myself I would happily settle for living in a home like these.

It stirred up memories also. When I was just a young boy, my parents built the house that would become our home. I can recollect being picked up from primary school by my dad and on the way home stopping by the building site as our home to be went up. I can only imagine the satisfaction it must have given him to see it come together. It’s a rare pleasure to observe all your plans and careful designs come into being. As a kid, I remember I felt excited too – but then, most construction sites are exciting to boys.

I have memories too of our family group venturing out on weekends to visit display homes. That was once quite the thing. I don’t think I always enjoyed this quite so much – being dragged around to view empty homes every weekend. I’m not sure when this happened – my dates seem muddled. Logic suggests that it must have been before we started building our house, but I’m sure it was later than that. It begs the question – was there plans to build another home? I can’t recall, though I remember there was a house from one particular architect or builder that they were keen on – and I can see the house in my mind, modern and stylish.

I should have asked my dad the other day.

By chance, the first thing on Wednesday morning I finally interviewed for the role I applied for over Christmas. It’s with a company specialising in urban design.

Apparently, recruitment did what recruitment often does best – it overlooks the best candidates. When my application came through, it was put in the do not contact pile. It was only picked up when the guy filling the role asked what had happened to my application. I’d sent him my CV initially, and so he knew of me and asked HR to track me down.

The interview went well, and apparently, I’m now on a shortlist of three. From what I can gather – and this is from my mate who works there – the frontrunner is someone who has direct experience with their (quite obscure) ERP system, as well as Power BI – I don’t have either. I’m behind the eight ball there, but they see me as someone who can get things done.

The thing is, when they asked what appealed to me about the role I was quite honest in telling them I had a great interest in their industry, and actually made reference to the program I watched the night before. It’s too late for to become an architect, but to be in a position to facilitate great things and feel some part of it would be very satisfying.

Right now it’s my standby option. In theory, the promotion should come through where I am now, though nothing is ever certain with them – a point I reiterated to their face yesterday. It’s at a higher level than the role I interviewed for, and common sense dictates that it should be the preferred option. I’m not always sure about that, though.

Let’s see how things play out. I could be offered both. Neither may eventuate. As so often, fate will decide.

Things moving

Went into the office on Friday. We had a strategy session in the afternoon and before that a few meetings, including a crucial presentation. Afterwards, we went for a drink and then a meal at a Malaysian restaurant.

It’s the presentation I want to discuss. The proposal is to switch from a current technology vendor to another and was basically a side by side comparison of cost and functionality. This had been submitted right on Christmas for review, and on Friday we put it to the digital manager. The presentation went well, and though it still needs to be accepted by the broader business (it’s a big deal) and formally approved, it looks likely to be a goer. The ensuing project will be mine.

The presentation was well-received, but at one point, the manager asked an interesting question. He asked if we’d assessed the structure required to manage this once it became BAU and the internal costings for that.

I hadn’t, basically because up till now, and for the last two and a half years, it’s been all me and only me managing this, and consuming between 40-60% of my capacity through this period. I expect that’ll rise to about 80% through the 6-month project phase, and that others will join the project on an ad hoc basis as required. As one of the benefits to this vendor is that it opens up much greater opportunities for integration and that it’s unlocked for dev work (unlike the current application), then there is a definite case to build a BAU team around it.

This is interesting because it was clear that he envisages a team with me as the product owner, and at least one other, a BA/dev type. And that’s what he wants added to the presentation.

This is good news for me, but also tricky. It’s like when a recruiter asks what your salary expectations are. Naturally, you want to get as much as possible – but then, you don’t want to price yourself out of a job. On the other hand, you don’t want to pitch a number that makes you seem a less credible candidate. In my experience, you’re better to err on the upside. Psychologically, it appears that if you put a premium price on yourself, others are more likely to see you as a premium candidate. But then, this isn’t a job interview.

I can structure this up easy enough, though there are still a lot of vagaries. I’m hesitant to nominate dollar figures though, for myself and the other person, which ultimately would be speculative.

Regardless, it’s a positive problem to have – and reassuring also. Forget the pay rise, here’s the role they’ve been mysteriously alluding to for months. It will come with its own built-in pay rise, as well as extra responsibility.

This has always been an obvious progression for my role. I had others advocate for this 18 months ago, and it’s easily argued that I’ve performed this function absent the title (and salary) for the last couple of years. It’s strange that I should’ve felt such surprise at this development.

I think that is part and parcel of the general uncertainty I’ve experienced over the last 12 months, and potentially longer than that. I feel as if I’ve been nowhere near the top of my game. I know that I haven’t been. It’s funny to think that and then realise that others see you in a different light. Despite all my doubts and misgivings, the motivational fluctuations and existential plunges, my superiors have the faith that I can do this (as do I, of course).

It just goes to show that what you feel isn’t always visible to others. In that, I’m lucky I look the part generally, and that always counts for a lot. I have the demeanour, behaviour, and habits to carry it off, regardless of what I feel inside. Fortunately, I’m still capable of hitting top gear, though much less often – but it’s good enough to leave them with a lasting impression.

They know what they see, but I know more than that. I can still hit top gear, but my cruising speed is a lot less than it was at my peak. Obviously, it appears good enough to get by – and maybe, to get ahead. I need to improve on it, though.

As always, nothing is certain. There are still a couple of hurdles to clear, and the structure I pitch may yet be rejected. Let’s presume that it will go through. The question will be whether I take on the new role at the beginning of the project, or at the end of it – there’s a good 6 months between start and finish.

Cracking it

I cracked it on Friday at my weekly meeting with my manager. I’m running on empty, get very little support, and the pay rise that’s been promised to me forever still hasn’t come through. “Haven’t you got that yet?” was his surprised response.

I’m pretty safe cracking it with him. We have a good relationship and he pretty well thinks I’m the bee’s knees. And he’s sympathetic both to the fact that I’m under-supported, and the justice of a decent pay rise. The irony is that the pay increase has been agreed to and submitted, or so it’s said, and it supposedly it’s a slow turning bureaucracy holding it up, and potentially the CEO – who, apparently, must approve every pay rise.

I’m pissed off, and for good reason. Being run-down probably doesn’t help either, as well as my general discontent at the direction my life is taking. There are a lot of known unknowns.

The lack of support is a big one, and I brought up in my conversation with him. I’m solely responsible for a piece of critical digital infrastructure, but I don’t have the support I need, nor the authority such a role should bring. I have to do everything in that role, from the smallest thing to the biggest, and if I’m not there pushing things along it grinds to a halt—all for a pittance.

I need a cut-out, if only for my peace of mind. It’s particularly infuriating when you consider that 20 people have been added to the department through the pandemic, and we can’t get a single person to help us out.

I reckon we’re just about the most efficient team in the department, and they know it, and figure they can get away with treating us mean because we’ll still get the job done. We’re only just getting by, though. Like I said to my manager, I’d be mighty pissed if I discovered that any of the new starters have come in at a higher salary than me – and, odds-on, some will have.

I know, it’s tough keeping things tidy through a lockdown, but this is the sort of thing that undermines trust and respect. That’ll be the excuse near enough, but I’ve been promised something since March.

I sometimes think to myself that I should take it easier. I should care less about what I do. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that not everyone is fully committed. I could try that, but it’s just not natural to me. Maybe it’s corny, but I can only be the person who puts in, even if its just habit and personal pride that makes it so. But when you’re committed to the job, you like to feel that those who pay your wage are just as committed as you. The moment you feel used or exploited or, God forbid, taken for granted, then trust is gone. It’s all words.

All throughout this pandemic, I’ve been flat-out. More things are happening than ever before because we had to sprint to catch-up when Covid hit. I’ve run myriad projects and been part of others. Sitting at my desk and connecting with others via online meetings and email, and the odd phone call, and things get stripped bare. I’ve learned that everyone has an opinion, but responsibility is optional.

Safe in your own home, it’s easy to sit back and cast pearls of wisdom and then disengage once the link is closed. Out of the office, it’s much easier to put it out of mind when it’s out of sight and make it somebody else’s responsibility. Responsibility is a choice.

I’ve always opted to take responsibility. And if I say I do it out of pride and habit that’s true enough, but mostly it’s that I don’t want to let anyone down. I don’t want to be the man that fails you; I want to be the man you can rely on, thick or thin. That’s the contract.

This seems perfectly normal to me: how can it be otherwise? It seems that way to me because that’s how I’m made. But people are made different, and from time to time, I try and explain it to myself. It’s a generational thing, I think, or class, or entitlement, or all of that, or nothing, or some other happenstance. I don’t know the truth and a lot of it after the fact seems like nonsense, and the sort of nonsense we’ve spouted for millennia trying to make sense of things.

Things are what they are. I am what I am. And if I’m old school, then I don’t want to be any other way. I just want my just dues, which is all anyone can ask for.

Ending the discussion with my manager, I mentioned that when considering my position, they should factor in the cost of losing me, which would be a sum far greater than the pay rise due to me. He agreed, and for once there was some possibility it might become relevant.

I get emails every week about jobs. Sometimes, I’m interested – but never interested enough to do anything about it. I’m so jaded that I can’t face the fakery of the recruitment process. That’s just not in me.

But then an email came through spruiking a similar job just a little different. There’s nothing particular about the role – I’m actually overqualified for it, though it offers a good 25K more than what I’m earning now. It appealed to me because I would be managing the one function, rather than juggling multiples of them. As I’ve said before, I no longer feel the need to strive or conquer or prove anything. A good job, properly rewarded, in a good organisation, is probably all I can ask for.

What made it different though is that it’s in the same company that JV works in, which potentially gave me another way in without the fakery. I saw him last night, and we discussed it. I was unsure if he would want me working at the same place, but he was keen and offered to refer me.

An extra $25K over the next 10 years is a quarter mill, and I’d guess I’d move up the ladder regardless in that time and earn more. I’m sending JV my CV today, and he’ll be referring me to the powers that be, and no doubt giving me a big rap.

Whether this happens, or whether it answers the bigger questions I’ve been asking, I don’t know. I’m glad to have an option, though. I’d love to shove it in their face back at work.

Working now

I’m in a fairly typical situation right now. I’m in a meeting, but one in which I’m more of an observer than a participant. I don’t actually know why I was invited, but I’m here, listening to it through the laptop speakers while I go about other things.

So far, I’ve taken a call, responded to a couple of emails, sent some Teams messages, taken a delivery, and made a cup of tea. Now I’m typing away at this post while they continue to rabbit on about things that have no relation to my job.

It represents a bit of a break for me in the normal scheme of things. It’s inconvenient because it keeps me away from the meat of my job, but it’s also a chance to catch my breath. With Christmas not many days away, things are cranking up even more to get things done before we go on a break. That means a lot of meetings sandwiched in between lots of work. In my case, I’m doing about half a dozen things at once.

Not that it will mean much, but these are the jobs I’m working on right now: a return to work app, Facebook integration to live chat, a chatbot client customisation, an online booking tool, sundry smaller projects, as well as my usual job – managing and coordinating the devs. I’ve also got a meeting tomorrow with a vendor pitching an alternative chat solution. And, as of this moment, there are about 7.5 working days until we break – and about 0.5 of that will be in a Christmas do.

It’s okay. It’s full-on, but it’s finite, and the finish line is within reach.

I’ll be in the office again before Christmas and was there last Friday. It was a strange experience. The office was practically empty still, but for our team and a few strays. It was quiet, and the vibe entirely different. I felt a little uplifted just by being there. I think it was the sheer novelty of it – the change of routine amid a routine that hasn’t changed for months.

Officially, we start returning to the office in February. It’ll be scheduled dribs and drabs, for a minimum of one day a week. Once we’re back into some sort of groove, I expect it’ll become more expansive and the schedule set. From all I gather, we’ll be likely required to attend the office two days a week.

Just things

Another Monday, another day at home working. It fees no different to countless others. I’ve had my coffee, I’ve caught up on the news, and I’ve read a little. Now I sit at my desk in the backroom, and Rigby, as usual, is prone on the dog cushion behind me.

It’s a sunny morning. It will be a sunny, warm day. I’m reading emails and catching up work-related stuff. At some point, I’ll join meetings and make calls. I’ll send my emails. I’ll worry at solutions.

It feels like it has been ever thus. Other than lockdown – no small thing – the only thing that’s really changed is the seasons, and me.

There are times I wonder how I’ve managed. For probably the last two months, maybe more, I’ve really struggled. I’ve made reference to this along the way, trying to explain it. In a simple sense, I take no satisfaction from my job. I keep doing it – after a fashion – but I have no belief in the work I do. It’s just things.

It would be a lot easier if less was expected of me, but I’m loaded up with work, and some of it pretty full-on. It’s the last thing I want. It’s my heart’s desire to sit in the corner, unnoticed (how different that is from times before!). If I have to work, then I want to do it quietly, and with minimal contact with others. Perversely, circumstances have demanded virtually the opposite.

I wonder sometimes how I’ve managed. In retrospect, it feels as if I’ve been walking the tightrope, fearing that at any moment I would plunge into the abyss below.

There’s a sort of pattern I’ve observed. Take a typical week. I reckon for three days of it I’m of limited effectiveness. I hate to admit it, but I feel anxious and frustrated and impotent. My mind is clouded. There are practical, legitimate reasons for some of that, but most of it is in me.

I’ll dream then, and the dream will reflect work but in a different context. It’ll take up the themes but present it on a different stage. The dreams are infuriating. I feel like I’m going around in an infinite loop I cannot escape. I’ll wake, exhausted from it, but sometimes it acts as a kind of circuit-breaker. It like it burns out the frustration, leaving the way clear again, briefly.

For about a day and a half, I become very productive and efficient, making up for much of the wasted time. I’ll have some clarity in my mind. I’ll get things back on course and moving forward before I lapse back into the cycle.

There’s no doubt that I’m well below my best. Sometimes I wonder how I can get away with it. And not just get away with it – at times, being applauded for my work! It feels surreal. Hang in there, I tell myself, one foot in front of the other – and if I make any progress, then it’s through a combination of raw brainpower, experience, and stubbornness. I feel like an athlete who doesn’t train but gets to the finish line by cunning and raw ability. There’s only so much of that you can get away with, and I fear being exposed as a fraud.

I’ve been tempted to open up and tell my superiors. It would be a lot easier if I took a step back and looked after myself, but the opportunity hasn’t really presented itself. And if I haven’t been forthcoming, then it’s less about being ashamed and more so understanding that if I’m unable to do the job, then others will have to – and with everyone so busy I don’t want to make their life more difficult because I can’t cope. It’s a sense of obligation – and pride – that stops me from doing that.

In the end, I do cope. The proof is that I’m here still and the odds are that the work will be done. I can make it to Christmas, though no further.

What happens after? Hopefully, the break will restore me, but I have to address the fundamental issues. I don’t think I’ll ever get that belief back in what I do. And though I may again feel a measure of satisfaction occasionally, it’s not enough to sustain me emotionally. What choices do I have, though? That’s part of the problem. I feel locked in.

The solution, I suspect, lies in other parts of my life.

Losing control

I had a dream last night that I was a part of a paramilitary type unit. I was in command of a small troop patrolling a city when race riots broke out. My unit and I fought to protect the vulnerable, ushering them to safety. Outnumbered, it was a bruising experience both physically and mentally. We fought hard and long, but we couldn’t protect everyone and watched as some we couldn’t save set upon by the mob and beaten.

Eventually, the riots died down, and reinforcements were sent to the city. It was in the aftermath, and we were sitting in a room sore and reflective when one of the replacements pipes up. There’s one like this in every group. He’s had a look around, and everything has become quiet, and with a mocking tone to his voice, he wonders aloud what the big deal is about? He goes onto to say it’s all an exaggeration and probably political anyway. And what does he care about the victims of this – they’re not his people.

I’m respected by my team because I’m calm and measured, and I’ll always make the right call. They know I’ll do everything to protect them. They understand that I lead with a moral imperative, but I’ll always have their back. They’re shocked then, by what comes next.

I’m exhausted. Though we’ve fought hard, I’m dismayed at the thought of those we couldn’t save, some of whom were friends. I hear this man’s words, and I sit there reflecting on them, then I get up. I walk across to him, and though I know it’s probably the wrong thing and counter to my image of self-control, I feel great satisfaction as I swing with my fist and knock the man down.

I’m disciplined for this, obviously. I’m stripped of my command locked away for a few days. My team is shattered at what’s happened. Though they understand my feelings, they wonder what got into me. Is the old man cracking up?

I’m released and return to the unit. My 2IC has now taken over the team. She’s someone I have an intimate relationship, and she looks at me with tenderness and pity. The rest of the team are happy to have me back but uncertain given my present status. It doesn’t feel right that I’m not out in front.

Also, there is the man I struck, as well as some of the top brass. There’s trouble brewing again, and we’re about to be thrown into the cauldron. The new skipper, my lover, is angry at how I’ve been treated. She wants to protest and demand that I’m reinstated. I smile at her and with a gesture as if releasing something from my hand, I tell her to let it go.

One of the top brass has observed the interaction. He chuckles, makes a comment about wise words, and then proclaims that in light of the coming troubles it’s been decided that I will re-assume command of the team.

The whole team is thrilled. They come to me, one by one, to let me know how relieved they are that I’m in charge again and how much they’ve missed me. One or two admonish me gently, but even the recruit is happy to have me back.

They feel safe with me, and it’s an obligation I’m happy to shoulder. I look at them knowing we have a job to do. They look back, waiting on my command. The world has righted; there are things to do – and our mission to do them.

Thus ends the dream.

As always, I wondered what all this meant. It seemed to me that once upon a time, I was once that person known for calm and unflappable judgement. I used to thrive when the pressure was on. There was an edge to me, and I was more inclined to go my own my way than the character in the dream, but he’s recognisably similar – at least in my mind – to who I was.

That I’m not that man now is something I’ve come to accept, though most of the elements remain – they’ve just combined in a different way. Funnily enough, a work friend told me a couple of weeks ago that I was the wisest person she knew. I felt uncomfortable with the praise and made light of it, remembering how much I’d fucked up in my life.

I like that man in the dream and wish I was he. That I dream this now is a reflection of recent times I think. I’ve been off the last few months, as many have been. In that time, I’ve been managing what I’ve described as the most unpleasant project of my life.

Much of it is just plain difficult – an incompetent vendor, a tricky brief, everyone working remotely, and perceived pressure from board level. What’s made it more challenging is that the team drafted in for this – unlike the dream – are unwilling to be part of it. They don’t believe in the value or purpose of the project and question it. I share some of their reservations but, as I tell them, our job is not to question the validity of the project but to deliver it. (Unfortunately, all of this plays into the general malaise I feel, doubting the value and purpose of every task.)

For me, it’s been difficult because I’ve got little practical support but from one, and so have to shoulder much of the burden myself. Like the character in the dream, I feel like snapping sometimes. I look at them occasionally and think how nice it is to have the luxury of an opinion when you don’t have to put anything on the line.

But how does the dream reflect all this? And what is it telling me?

Rough days

Today is a rough day. It’s been coming on for the last few days. It’s what it’s like in these times. A few good days, a few indifferent days, a few bad days.

There probably is something merely cyclical to it, a propensity, or vulnerability after every so long. That’s how it was before. In this case, it’s been hurried on by circumstances.

I’m a very busy man at work. I’ve commented on that before. I feel pretty stretched thin at times, and at times I feel as if things don’t let up then I’ll end up burnt out. I give myself until Christmas when thankfully I have a break.

I’m on a bunch of projects and some of them high profile. I’m doing most of the work because, as I’ve mentioned before, it becomes easier to do it yourself than it is to wait for someone else to do it. There’s one project, particularly which is tricky and complex and there’s pressure from on high to get it on. I have to report up to the board regularly.

I don’t have complete control over the project because the build itself must be done by our vendor partner, who is very unreliable, both in terms of responsiveness and the quality of their work. To be fair, they’re just as stretched thin as we are.

For me, it’s frustrating because I can never get any traction. They’re slow to get things done and then it’s wrong anyway. There’s a great sense of powerlessness when you’re busier than is healthy and yet you must wait for others to respond and do their thing. And all the while the work piles up and the logjam grows.

On Friday it came to a head when we came to test the latest version and found it greatly lacking. I just want this behind me so I can move onto the next thing and have one less thing to worry about. Instead, I must go back to the vendor with the issues documented in detail, including the to-be, and, hopefully, come up with solutions.

At the same time, I have to manage the expectations upstream of me. I don’t want to rush anything into production that isn’t right, but I’m mindful of how much is riding on this. Then there’s the program of work this is holding up. And there’s a question in the back of my mind, why are we spending so much time on this when we seem certain to deploy a replacement application early next year?

To compound all this, I have no cut-out. There’s no-one I can turn to assist in any meaningful way and no-one who has the knowledge to provide another opinion of merit. It’s all on me.

I was exasperated on Friday, and the general fatigue that’s been present for a while closed in on me. I had an uncomfortable experience on Friday night and for most of the weekend felt wasted. It was certainly a physical sense, but also very much a mental thing.

That’s a big part of the problem with working from home these days – you’re always in your workplace. My home was my sanctuary before. I could leave my problems in the office and retreat to the secure environs of my home. Now that there’s never any variation – never any office time, not even any social time out – it feels as if my home has become infected by my work.

I’ve turned up to ‘work’ again today and done all the things I needed to do, including sending an email upstream flagging the problems we have, and potential consequences. I’ve touched base with the vendor, written documentation, sent emails, kept busy.

I’m buggered, though. I can easily see myself needing a break, and I guess it’s lucky there’s a couple of public holidays in the offing. What I really need is a proper break, as in a change of scenery: me, and everyone else.

I’ll pull it all together; I’ll manage a way through – because I always do. Doesn’t feel a healthy way to be, though.

Just as an aside, I mentioned a week or so ago how I felt a disconnect between the man who does the work and the man writing these words. I had a dream the other day. In it, I was with a friend, and we were waiting for someone else to join us. When he didn’t arrive, we went out searching for him. It was midway through the search that I realised that the man we were searching for was me! But here I was! Wasn’t I?

It was a curious dream and a curious feeling. What do they call that? Dis-association?