Necessary compromises

I went out for dinner on Saturday night and in conversation was told about an acquaintance who has been out of work since late last year. I hardly know him, but have been kept informed over the last few months because of the similarity to my experience. And I took an interest for the same reason.

This guy had been well established and had a defined occupation, but was forced out of work by the usual economic factors. When he went searching for a new job he ran into the usual frustrations – advertised jobs that weren’t really jobs, dodgy recruiters, and promising opportunities that never paid off. I heard the stories and understood the scenario. I was sympathetic, but in a perverse way was reassured that my experience was not unusual.

And it’s not unusual. This is a thing now. I know of many guys around my age who, out of work, have struggled to get back into it. One friend was out of work for 12 months and ultimately had to move overseas for a job. Another had 6 months out of work, found an ordinary job, then endured a succession of ordinary jobs with patches of unemployment in between. Another found himself unexpectedly unemployed, disappointed with job applications, before finally settling on a junior role to get back into it. All these guys are well qualified and very experienced – a CFO, an FC, and a top notch IT guy.

Getting back to the original guy I was told on Saturday that it looked like he finally had a job – as a Corrections Officer. I blanched at that. I know very well that any job is a good job when you’re not working – I returned as a customer service officer. Corrections Officer seemed a different order of job though, a hard, possibly unforgiving job – though I don’t know, it may be fulfilling and rewarding. Still, it seemed tough – but when you have a family to support anything goes.

Good luck to him, but I hope he doesn’t lose sight of who he is and what he did before. I was very conscious of the fork in the road. I knew I had to work, to get money in, but also I knew I had to get back to what I was before I travelled too far down the other fork. Leave it too late and it’s too far to backtrack, and that has psychological implications as much as it does financial.

Whether you like it or not, we take a lot of meaning from the work we do. We become identified with it, and identify ourselves by it also. If it so happens we become accomplished at it we draw pride from it and a sense of personal purpose.

To be unemployed is to have all sense of meaning, purpose, pride stripped from you. It’s not pretty. When I took on the job answering customer phone calls I applied myself to it as I did my jobs previously, and set myself the challenge of doing it well. It wasn’t me though. I did fine, but I was a square peg in a round hole – I knew it, and so did others. And there was not the emotional nourishment I had experienced when I worked doing the things I was expert at.

All throughout I had my eye set on returning to some semblance of work as I did before, even if junior. The clock was ticking and I knew if I couldn’t manage it soon then it might never happen. I had been one thing all my life, and I didn’t want to become another (not of my choosing) for the rest of it.

I managed that. I’m not content, but I’m back in the game and I can have that conversation.

Everyone is different. It’s hard when you get to a certain age, but I would urge this acquaintance to either find something to love in his new role, or else to look beyond it with the idea of getting back to what he did best. This is why so many employers are unwilling to take chances on people like me – the fear that we might only be temporary. It’s a fact of life though – each of us has something inside that needs to be nourished, and from that comes our sense of self-worth. All of us want to be happy. You can compromise along the way, but I don’t think you should ever compromise on what you want from this, the only life you’ll get.

The deflating balloon

Back at work after a long weekend, a fresh coffee at my hand and a short week ahead. I feel kinda mellow. I had a pleasant, but uneventful few days watching a lot of sport, doing a bit of cooking, plus the usual daily shift of writing. The sport was excellent by and large – my team is flying, footy is entertaining, and in a tough year my tipping is great. The only down was the loss by Australia in the Champions Trophy, but I’ll come to that. Cooking was fine too, a hearty Bolognese and some chocolate brownies. As for the writing – well, not thrilled, but you have patches like that. Now back to work.

One of the things I got up to over the weekend was to update my LinkedIn profile. I also did a bit of thinking about my professional future, including the possibility of returning to freelance consulting. That’s my preferred option for so many reasons, but it’s the riskiest, and it’s pretty tough too. As a part of that I sent off an email to the closest thing I have to a consulting mentor, who has a soft spot for my eccentric ways.

Back at work the guy across from me muttered something, then showed his phone to me. It displayed an acknowledgement for a role he had applied for at Telstra. Change is in the air.

I don’t know what will happen to me, and the odds are that I’ll continue on here for a while yet. I don’t feel my customary urgency though, not at the moment anyway. That’s one of the qualities I normally bring to my job. I push things through. I don’t take no for an answer. I make things happen. It’s the reputation I made 15 years ago and I take pride in that, but I don’t feel it now. It’s probably temporary, but it’s significant. I feel as if the air is slowly being let out of the balloon – and it’s not just me. Through carelessness it’s happening about me, others, impatient and disillusioned with the environment have come to the same place I am.

I’m not concerned about that right now. As I say, I feel mellow. It’s a short week and I have things to do that I’ll methodically work through, but I won’t be reaching. I’ve now got my eyes on something beyond all this.

Where does that leave me?

I just had a murmured conversation with the bloke that sits across from me and both of us confirmed we’re keenly looking for another job. I had hopes – which I was sceptical of- that that wouldn’t be necessary. As it turns to, to no-one’s surprise, my scepticism was well founded.

Let’s rewind a little. A little while back I had three potential jobs on the go outside, and the promise of a much better opportunity – not to mention more cash – should I choose to stay. What’s happened since I think is fairly typical of the job market, sad, but true.

First the jobs. I interviewed for the first, but as it was a 3 month contract only I knocked it back. The second job was dead keen to get the interview happening and the job filled pronto, but could never sufficiently organise themselves to arrange it. Quite unexpectedly that dragged on and on with promises repeatedly made and nothing actually happened until, finally, I was told they had changed their mind and decided they didn’t need anyone after all. The third job promised to move a lot quicker – too quick as it turned out. I was told about it on a Thursday night, get ready for an interview. Friday morning I was told the position had been filled. Whatever.

I was frustrated, but it’s a long time since I’ve been surprised. I reckon you tap any jobseeker on the shoulder and they’ll have similar tales. I followed up a week or so later with the woman who put me forward for these roles only to be told she had left the company – and that was that. A brief Indian summer of job prospects that came to nothing.

So that was that, but then there was the lure of a better role in the job I have. A couple of months ago when we had this discussion I was told it was 2-3 weeks away. It was before the board and had to be approved. When I inquired about it yesterday I was told exactly the same thing. You can see why I’m a sceptic.

Somewhere along the line – in the next month – I will get a pay rise. As far as I’m concerned to keep me interested it has to be a minimum of 5 figures. I’m not sure that will be the case.

I have other issues. I’ve lost faith with the business. I’m not alone. The widespread feeling is that it’s an incompetent company. I’m actually working on some interesting things, some of which I’ve never done before and don’t seem to be within my skillset. I like that. I like being stretched. I’m designing a knowledge management framework and process at the moment. I’ve worked in that area before, but it’s interesting. I’ve also just submitted a proposal for a complaints management process. It’s pretty good, I think, and fits in besides the product review process I designed a couple of months ago. This is new to me. I’ve also submitted a business case for the online chat thing I’m managing, and that was very well received. All good on the surface. Look beneath the surface though.

Most of the things I propose will never happen, or will be severely abbreviated. There aren’t resources available, or IT can’t help, or won’t, or I can’t get the right management buy-in. Or maybe I get all that but it’s put off for 3-4 months when things, supposedly, will be quieter.

That’s the story of this place. I have a role specifically about improving processes and implementing efficiencies. A lot of that will be IT related, but if it is then it’s basically a no go – they don’t have anyone to do the work, or else they veto it for their own mysterious reasons (or don’t even look at it). Or else they’re so protective that when you offer to do it yourself they won’t permit you – I’m experienced in SharePoint (more than anyone here), have offered to do all the work required for my KMS and act as admin, but no, that’s their thing – even though they won’t do it.

In basic terms that leaves me with a pile of proposals that never get progressed, and otherwise the little initiatives where I either avoid IT involvement, or don’t require it. Even then I can’t get answers from people. Once more I have a pile of proposals sitting in people’s inbox’, just waiting for someone to give the green light, or at least some constructive feedback. I’m immensely frustrated because my job seems futile. It’s not just me either, others see it too, and ruefully shrug their shoulders.

So the plan is to start looking again. I wonder, however, how well suited I am to this now. I’m outspoken and stubborn and a bit of an iconoclast and I get away with it generally because I have a point, and because I manage to leaven it with humour. I’m an outsider though too. That’s become very clear to me now. I think I always was, but there was a time I might have been absorbed into the system. That time has gone forever now. It’s not my intention, but I feel as if my outsider status has been confirmed this last year. I’m very good at what I do, I can be charming, I speak well and have many of the attributes of someone who’ll go far within the system, except by nature I’m set against it. I don’t want to belong to it, and I can’t go along with it just because it’s easier to do so. In fact there are some (my father chief among them) who claim that I choose to be difficult. I disagree, it’s just that I want things right regardless of the politics, and resist becoming a faceless company man.

If I write an autobiography one day I might entitle it Where does that leave me? It’s a frequent question. Luckily I get away with a lot because I’m competent and reliable, and I guess I can trade on that worst case scenario. I reckon put me in a job where I run the show and I’ll be happy. Past experience supports that notion. It’s dealing with bureaucracies and stupid people that does me in. They’re hard to avoid, unfortunately, and in the short term I guess I just have to deal with it the best I can. I can look, and hopefully luck into the right job.

Ultimately I’m hoping for a wealthy sugar mummy. Ok, not really – I’ve given up on that. Ultimately – really this time – I just want to write. Reckon that time is becoming ripe, but have to get it right first.

Whistling while I work

I’m humming at work today and whistling the odd tune and I don’t have any fucking idea what’s going on. Does this mean I’m happy? Content? Or just a tad odd?

I’m not unhappy, but I would never claim to be content – I don’t know the last time I could claim that. Decades, maybe. I’m not miserable though, nor angry, or even pissed off. I’m bored in the usual way, but also have the odd bit here and piece there that takes my fancy. I’m horny for what it’s worth, and what always adds a skip to the step, but shoot, that’s hardly an irregular occurrence.

I’m genuinely curious, and wonder ultimately if this is one of those circumstances when the chemicals are mixed just right – so right that I’m prompted to whistle and hum.

Take it H, accept it for what it is and keep whistling Dixie is the sensible advice. Go with the cheery flow. I tend to over-think things, but in this case I’ll record the moment and leave it there. Enjoy it – I may not be whistling tomorrow.

On the way up again

It’s a funny thing to say, but I’m the happiest I’ve been at work for a long time. It’s still very much a second-rate operation, but for myself, I’m busy, engaged, and pivotal. I always reckon that I’m at my very best under the pump, and in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had high-profile jobs sent my way one after the other until I was managing 2-3-4 different jobs at once. It’s a challenge and you feel it, and for me, it’s an invigorating feeling. You either come to the party or you go home. I’m always going to come to the party.

It doesn’t change things necessarily for me, but I now have options. I don’t recall if I reported it but I knocked back one of the external roles proposed to me because it was a 2-3 month contract only. The other role is still on the simmer, but it’s proving very difficult to get together to discuss the details of it and to understand if it’s something I would want. The same criteria apply: the money will be substantially more than I’m currently earning (between 2-3 times more), but it’s no good if it’s only for a few months and with no guarantee of anything beyond that. I’m increasingly pessimistic about this option, though I’m assured it’s still on the go.

Fortunately, there has been movement in my current job. I’ve been pretty blunt with them. They know I think the salary is a joke, if not plain disrespectful, and that I’m frustrated by my ability to actually get anything done. They’re now promising more money from June, and dangling the prospect of a better job. Right now they’re just vague promises, and even so the money will still be much less than I can get on the open market – but it’s something.

One of my frustrations had been that the sympathetic clucking was not matched with action. To some degree that changed a couple of weeks back, almost by accident.

There had been a succession of critical and very damaging IT issues through February and March and into April. Taken as a whole they cost money, required huge amounts od resources to rectify, and caused substantial brand damage. It reached the point when something had to be done, which is when my manager’s manager asked me to put together a report detailing the full extent of the issues, within a week.

Long story short I wrote a report detailing 31 separate issues with a description of the problem, the cause of it, the re-work required, the resolution, and ultimately the cost, in both man-hours and dollars. I also attributed a criticality score to each issue.

That was presented in a potentially fraught meeting to the executive suite. An hour or so later my manager’s manager returned and came straight. “Went down a treat, champ,” he said, which is how he talks. Often times I’m ‘big fella’. He’s a smart operator and good bloke. He told me how the head of IT said he had worked there for 9 years and that mine was the best report he’d received in all that time. I thought that was a little over the top – there are gaps – but I was happy to take the kudos. More than anything it made my manager’s manager look good, and that’s important. (I’ve since learned that my report is doing the rounds right up to the CEO, and is now looked upon as a template for how to report these things. If nothing else I’m getting good exposure).

The upshot of that, and a few other things, is that he has got involved in the discussions about my future and has made it clear that he doesn’t want me going. I think I’m seen as very capable and reliable, the sort of competent person who will just get it done, and right the first time. I’ve got a good reputation there, but I know I can do a lot more.

I guess they know it too now because I’ve been lured with vague promises of working in the office of the CEO. This is a shadowy, semi-elite area reporting directly to the CEO. It get’s all the big transformation jobs and sets a lot of strategy and policy for the business. Because you work for the CEO there are green lights all the way. It’s one of my colleagues said out of the blue that’s where I should be working, and then separately I’m told of a project they want me to work on with them in a month or two.

It’s encouraging, but it’s not a fait accompli. If in the meantime I get a solid and worthwhile offer from this other mob – which would look good on my CV besides – then I’d be silly not to take it. There’s a temptation to stay on though.

I don’t know if you can understand. I need all the money I can get and a doubling of my salary would solve all sorts of problems, and probably set me on the road to a decent career again. Still, I’m curious to see what I can achieve where I am. I started at the bottom. I had everything and lost and for years was out in the cold, and when I got my chance again it was on the bottom step.

I’ve now progressed a little beyond that, and obviously will progress further if their promises mean anything. One of my motivating factors getting back into it was to prove I still had it – to me, and to the world. I could take this external job and I would merit it, but only on the strength of my previous experience and my CV. That counts for nothing where I am. Most of them have no idea of what I’ve done. Everything I achieve is purely based on performance and I’m curious and excited to see how far that may take me.

I’ve survived, the next step is to thrive. I’m very motivated by the challenge, and the thought of climbing my way back towards the top again. I want to show what I can do. I want to apply what I have. I want to rise on the back of my determination and pure ability. For years I had no value in the marketplace and I want to show them how wrong they were. I want to conquer.

Back to Brissy

I’m travelling to Brisbane tomorrow. In ways it’s a bit of a horror trip. I walk out the door at 6am and don’t walk back in until more than a dozen hours later. In the meantime I’ll be 4 hours on a plane, there and back. In other ways I’m looking forward to it.

I spent about 10 months in Brisbane in 2005, and haven’t been back since. I’m curious to see how much it has changed and what it’s like now. I keep hearing good things about Brissy and though a hurried day in the city won’t allow me to see much hopefully I can get some sense of the present day vibe.

It means that I’m very busy right now preparing for the trip while attending to the multitude of projects being sent my way, all with more priority than I would like. As it stands, touch wood, I’m on top of everything, but that can change quickly. There’s also the concern that while I’m doing my thing ultimately it’s dependent on others doing theirs. Given nothing is live, let alone tested, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in that.

Other things are happening too, but I’ll have to leave that conversation for another time.


I’m undergoing one of my periodical head-shaking, eye-rolling episodes at work. There’s been a whopping big project underway which up to now I’ve had no direct involvement in. I’ve looked on and listened in to the gossip and wondered how in the world they expected to get it over the line. There are two (pseudo) project managers but no project plan. From my knowledge of the business there were aspects it seemed were entirely overlooked, which when I mentioned it those involved sent them scurrying away wondering if they should do something about.

It’s shambolic and disorganised, but that’s what happens when it’s not properly scoped and the requirements not properly analysed. And without a project plan (how can you have a project without a project plan?) there are bound to be things that are missed, slip through the cracks, and/or are either delivered late or not at all. And of course, without a proper project plan none of the dependencies are mapped – and that’s a whole untidy mess when that’s overlooked.

The saving grace has been that until I’ve been no more than a bemused onlooker. Now I’ve been dragged into it.

To be fair I should have been involved a month or two ago. A key component of the project is customer comms. A big part of that is web chat. As somebody who successfully implemented and managed a web chat client in the business, and the nearest thing to an expert on it, you’d have thought I’ve be called upon much earlier to lend my expertise and map out the pathway ahead.

That never happened and while it’s easy to suggest it was just another thing overlooked until the last minute, I have a sneaking suspicion that my manager kept me away from it. She took it upon herself to be the web chat expert, as if she had absorbed the necessary knowledge by osmosis. In the one meeting I belatedly attended I discovered she was saying things that were just not correct. When a question was asked about it I would open my mouth to answer only to find she had got in ahead of me. I would listen, once more bemused, before piping up to correct her: “Actually…”

In any case the damage was done. And now, a little over a week from go live, I’ve been dragged in and told to do ‘whatever’ I have to do to get it over the line. There’s no briefing, no requirements doc, no process description, no detail, no detail on what’s in and what’s out. I’ve got to organise the training for about 15 people across three groups, have to update and create scripts, have to organise all the administrative aspects – users etc – as well as create the reports.

When I delve into it and ask how this works one person gives me one answer, and somebody else the exact opposite. Because nothing is documented there is no definitive answer. Doing my due diligence to make sure the actual sites are correct and pending I discovered they were using the wrong codes and there was confusion about go-live dates. Purely by necessity I’ve found myself project managing a component I have no real responsibility for, but which has a direct bearing on what I have to do – and indeed, the success of the whole project.

To say I’m exasperated is an understatement. I confess to being a control freak, but that’s no bad thing in my situation. I like to know why I’m doing something and how it fits into the larger picture. Quite naturally there will be questions arising from that, and they should be asked – the problem is getting answers.

I’ll get this done, but it will take a lot more elbow grease than the initial project promised. I need to straighten it up and drag it over the line. I can’t speak for the project as a whole, but I can say that my small part of it will be precise.