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.

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?

Working the project from home

I think there’s little doubt that working from home is more difficult than in the office and, arguably, makes you busier also.

My experience is that I have to do more of everything. About 60% of my work is project-based. In a normal project with a team around you, you might do about 50% of the stuff as project lead. I reckon that’s up around 80% since we started working from home, and a lot of that is extra ‘running around’.

The main reason for this are issues around communication and being face to face. Outside of scheduled meetings, you’ll need to correspond and contact others, and occasionally you’ll need a prompt response. In the office, if someone doesn’t respond to a message or phone call then I can walk across the floor to speak with them directly. That’s not an option now.

It really depends on the individual, but I’ve found a lot of people are either slow to respond or non-responsive in general. I don’t have the option to tap them on the shoulder, so in the absence of anyone to help I’ll often spend time figuring it out myself. When there’s no-one to delegate to, you can’t delegate.

It’s the same when trying to explain concepts or discuss an issue. In the office, you can look at a screen together or draw something up on a whiteboard. It’s easier by phone when you connect, but imperfect. When you’re doing it by Teams and there’s a gap of hours between replies, then it’s torturous.

I’ve always been big on visual aids because that’s how I think. I’m a wiz at Visio and creating flowcharts and diagrams is second nature to me. They become ever so more important in times like these because, in a sense, they replace the whiteboard. What it means is that I must put more effort into creating these and putting together documentation so that we, in our disparate locations, have a common understanding of what we’re working on.

I guess the other thing is that in the office you’re basically dealing with two different locations – the office and the office of the vendor partner. Now that we’re all working from home there are multiple locations to deal with. I can’t see what’s going on and, as a control freak, that eats away at me.

There’s an interesting psychology here I haven’t touched upon: why aren’t people more responsive?

There are different reasons for this. I think for some working from home allows for some personalities to revert to type. That means they’re either oblivious of the messages sent to them because they never check, or they’re happy to put off a response. Some people may be sitting on the couch. Others, I suspect, are struggling with lockdown generally, which is blunting their effectiveness.

Me, I’m much the same as I am in the office. I sit here alert and hard-driving. I’ve actually thought I should take it easier. Relax, you’re at home. Occasionally I’ll take time out to catch part of a playoff game or read a book, but the itch is always to get back to my desk. I send messages on Teams and by email, I’ll make calls, via Teams, or on my phone to the vendor, and I’ll even send SMS or WhatsApp messages when I’m not getting anywhere.

It may be that I have to accept that it’s not going to be as efficient when working in the office. I know that. I just can’t seem to accept it. It eats at me and I get grumpy. It feels sometimes as if it’s an excuse for some – particularly the vendor – to ease back. By my reckoning, projects are about 40% less effective than before – and maybe that’s a fact of life.

Sometimes an impostor

You probably know by now that I’ve been agitating for a pay rise and a promotion at work for a while. I was pretty well promised this until the pandemic hit, when all such plans went out the window. Typical. I haven’t forgotten though, and I tend to be persistent even when I don’t plan to be. It’s in the genes to take another step, and another, and so on, and it boils down generally to an unwillingness to accept defeat.

There have been conversations throughout and vague promises of things that might happen one day, and I’ve eased off a bit because it’s hard to make commitments when we’re all sitting at home in lockdown.

Then, on Thursday night, I got a message from my manager pitching an idea to me. Basically, he was saying that he was proposing that he take over a larger segment of the business and that I should step up and move into his current job. I didn’t respond at the time as I got the message late, but I was theoretically interested.

The following morning I caught up with more detail, then had a meeting with him in the afternoon. Apparently, the department was doing some forward planning and focussing on roles and individuals. As part of that, every person had to be rated on their importance to the business. Previously I’d been rated as important, but that was upgraded to essential, or vital, or whatever the terminology is – anyway, the top level. That was nice.

By the time I caught up with him, he’d been in a meeting with the powers to be and had mapped all this out. During the discussion, he’d told them – the department manager and the divisional head – that I was doing work far in advance of my job title and was entitled to a pay rise. That was very good of him, but not a great surprise – he’s a very supportive manager. What surprised me is that the departmental manager agreed with that, the result is that they’re now, supposedly, reviewing my remuneration. That’s very welcome.

The other part of their conversation was what role was best for me going forward. There was either a product owner/manager role, but working in another team, or the role identified within my existing team but heading it up. Which did I prefer? In the end, I plumped for the second option. It’s not the perfect job, but I’ve yet to come across that beast. The bonus for me is that I’d continue to work with my current manager, who I think is excellent. We have a good relationship and have implicit trust in each other. Our working styles mesh well, and I love how he gives me so much freedom. And he’s a top-notch performer.

Supposedly, the outcomes of this should be realised sometime between two weeks and two months. I’m a sceptic, but we’ll see.

This would address a lot of my concerns. Even if I only get a pay rise out of it, then I’d be happy, and that seems more likely than not. And if I were to be promoted to the new role, I’d expect a pay rise in the order of $30K – $40K. That would alleviate a lot of my financial considerations with retirement looming in the next 10-15 years.

There’s an undercurrent to all this which I felt as we were discussing it. I’ve been pushing hard for something, much from financial necessity, some from a sense of a fair go – I deserved more, and my ego had a big say in it also, as always it does. But, as I’ve articulated here before, I’m not sure if my heart is in it anymore.

I remember many years ago, my best mate at the time telling me that he wasn’t interested in taking on more responsibility. He was smart enough, but he was happy to mooch along. I couldn’t come at that. It seemed weird to me. Why wouldn’t you? It seemed me that all the interesting stuff happened when you took on more. I didn’t fear responsibility, I craved it. I was always on the march, inquisitive and creative and hungry. The bonus was that it led to better jobs and more money.

I’ve still got that hard-coded in me as a kind of universal aspiration: this is how you should be. And so, often, I still think that’s what I want – which goes against the evidence of what I actually feel, which I’m not about to repeat again now.

I discussed this with a mate the other day, and we both agreed that I had to push forward. As I said to him, the evidence is that despite what I actually feel and the occasional doubts I have that I always manage to get it done. And the proof is easy to see – my performance review was five stars across the board, and now I’m rated as essential. Plus what I do works.

There’s a disconnect, nonetheless. There’s like two of me, the one that does things and the other who watches and comments on it. The one who does things is clever and effective, though even his motivation wanes occasionally. When that happens, he reverts back to habit and experience and sheer smarts. It takes a bit more elbow grease than it used to, but it works.

Then there’s the me that looks on and wonders if this is really what I want to do. He recognises how effective his other self is. When the plaudits come in, he understands the reason and logic of it even if he doesn’t feel the glow of it. He has less confidence than he should because it feels almost fraudulent to take credit for something his other self achieved. And that’s a frequent sense. It’s probably a variation on the impostor syndrome, which is not something I’ve ever experienced before. And, even so, I only feel an ‘impostor’ because I don’t own, or feel in myself, the things I’ve done. In fact, I know I’m in the top percentile when it comes to actual capability, and I believe in that, but I don’t feel it. It doesn’t live in me.

I think part of that is that I’m just not as interested in that as I used to be. I’ve become divorced from that aspect and because of that it feels both more tenuous and phony. As if, almost, for all I’ve done before, I’m not sure I can keep doing it – even though I do. The outcome of all that is deep inside I don’t want the responsibility. The irony now is that I look like having it thrust upon me.

I’ll deal with it. I don’t think I’ll ever be as interested as I was before, or engaged, which is a more apt term, but I don’t know that I want that. I hope I can reintegrate those two selves though because it’ll make life easier, and because the hard reality of it is that I have to. I’ve still got years ahead of me working for the man. Have to make it pay.

The WFH challenge

Working from home, I sometimes wonder if the people I’m dealing with are off sometimes doing something else. I’m sure that’s a great temptation, and pretty easy, too. I reckon most people I deal with are diligent, and some probably working harder than they were back in the office. There are a few who are harder to track down often, and you wonder if they’re sitting on their couch watching the NBA playoffs. No judgment from me if they are.

It’s not anything that occurs to me. I’m sometimes reluctant to drag myself to my desk, but I never think of not doing it. You could call it a good work ethic, but really, it’s an ingrained habit, more in my body than it is in my mind. This is what I do, so I do it.

I’ve been reconsidering that in the last week. I wondered if it might not be better for me if I took it a bit easier, even if I just broke it up a bit. The sheer repetition of sitting at the same desk every day and attending the same meetings becomes numbing. There’s an instinct to break free of it, to shake off the routine and assert some agency in your life. When there’s nothing else, no getting out and about, no socialising, no variety or unpredictability, then it starts to feel a bit close.

This morning I stayed in bed 10 minutes later than I normally would. It felt strange, but then I had to get up for a meeting. I’ve thought about taking 10 minutes every hour to go off and do something for myself – or at least get away from my desk. When the weather improves, I’m considering taking my laptop and working on the patio, just occasionally. And today I actually took some time – twice – to catch-up with the aforementioned NBA playoffs. It was good, sitting on the couch, cheering on the Celtics when they got over the line, then watching the Jazz narrowly lose to the Nuggets. (No skin in that game, but I’d have preferred the Jazz to win because of Joe.)

The point is, I got way from the narrow perspective of my desk and the computer screen in front of me. I shifted my mind away from work stuff and allowed for some spontaneous entertainment. Man, if I can’t do that from home just a little bit, then I’m wasting the opportunity. And, truly, I think I need it.

We’ve been told that we’ve earned some time in lieu because of the good and hard work we’ve been doing from home. There’ve been some good business results, and my stuff accounts for a fair proportion of that. It’s nice that gets recognised.

It’s harder working from home not from a motivation point of view, but because the things that are simple in the office become manual trials working from home. I can’t just wander over to someone’s desk to ask a question or see something. I can’t work with someone cooperatively as I would before. It’s either more challenging or not even worth bothering with. You cut more corners working from home, but you also do more because it’s left to you.

I’m considering changing my routine altogether – starting later and finishing later too and mixing up my day between work and the things that take me away from work.

Metaphysical desires

After having a grizzle the other week about how every opportunity seemed closed off to me, I had a chat last week with management. It all came about because my team lead, a truly decent human being, recognised that I deserved, and maybe needed, more. He spoke to one manager, and then in passing, mentioned it to the department head. When she spoke to me, she had ideas and suggested I speak to my manager.

A lot of things are on hold currently, which I understand. The view is that I’m getting antsy about being denied what was promised to me. It’s not as simple as that – yes, I want my just rewards and am generally set by default to seek more; but, likewise, in reality, I’m not as motivated or ambitious as I used to be. There’s a lot of push-pull in me these days and will be until I reconcile it entirely. Regardless of that, there’s the very practical consideration that – having been wiped out – I need more to stash away for when retirement comes. Even so, if someone could guarantee me a relatively modest $120k pa, CPI linked, over the next 10 years, then I’d probably take it – even though I can earn much more than that.

The discussion, when I had it, didn’t touch on the metaphysics of my situation. The metaphysical rarely gets a mention when it comes to career development, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s confusing enough without it.

What was put to me was an opportunity for a new role in a different team that would give me increased responsibilities and a bigger pay packet. In theory, not bad. Then I was told there was no budget for the role – which is new – until next financial year. At that point, the whole discussion seemed a waste of time. Then he said, well, let me have a chat and see what I can do. The inference was that maybe he could swing it much sooner. He said he’d get back to me in a couple of weeks.

As anyone who’s been reading this blog will know, this left me with confused and conflicted feelings. There’s a lot happening in this mental space. There is paradox aplenty.

I’m getting over it generally, but a recurring issue is that no-one really seems to know what I’ve done or am capable of. They’re all very complimentary of the work I’ve done with them, but I don’t think one of them has set eyes on my CV. That’s a tad disappointing, even if only at a very basic level. I claim not to care much for what people think of me, and I think that’s mostly true, but don’t we all have a fundamental need to be recognised as what we are?

I don’t know how many times I’ve looked on and thought, I’ve done that before and I could do it better. It sounds a bit snooty but I end up shrugging my shoulders and moving along. Times are different now and there’s not nearly the rigour around getting things done as there used to be, and maybe that’s why experience is overlooked. I’m steeped in practices and methodologies, but the whole principle of them has gone out of fashion. I’m happy to adapt and have, but I’m not about to forget the things I know, and it seems a waste in general and a pity that no-one bothers to check if there might be someone more qualified.

At the same time, I’m subject to people that in an earlier phase of my working life would’ve been reporting to me. I can accept that pretty well most of the time because I know that I don’t want that anymore necessarily – but nor do I necessarily want to defer or take instruction from someone who knows less than I do. I can be a bit snappy then, and experience is that people soon recognise it and let me go.

All this is true, in my mind at least, but it’s also ego. It’s the ego that puts the sauce on the objective fact. I know that. It’s what I’m trying to get away from. Let it go is what I tell myself, and after a bit of wrangling generally, I do.

These are practical considerations overlaid by the part of me that strives for more and new.

Then there’s the soul-deep part that has no part of the conversation but looks on wistfully. I don’t know how much of this is me, and my circumstances, and how much of it is stage of life. It can be interpreted as a mid-life crisis, and a lot of it aligns with that. But then, I think some of it comes from having endured what I have, been deprived of nurture through that, and coming out the other end and viewing conventional aspirations as being pretty hollow. To be honest, there was always a bit of that in me, even when I was living the high-life. Having endured the low-life since, it got reinforced.

What it means is that in my soul I want something more than a good salary and a handy sounding job title. I want to be doing something worthwhile to me. Paradoxically, I think a part of that is being my best self.

There’s a comment a friend made a few years back that’s haunted me in the last few days. He said he admired me because, like Kobe Bryant – his hero – I could invent my own shot. When I think of that the urge is to let myself go. Twirl the dial to 11. Go for it.

I just don’t know how real that is. Is it legitimate to start with? And is worthwhile if it is? Is it pure ego again? Or is that the opportunity I turn my back on because I’ve become modest?

Very strange. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I’ve known myself less well. The broad strokes I get, the history, but I don’t know who I am really, nor who I’m supposed to be.

Surviving work

So, the other day I got an update from work advising me that my current work hours – four days a week – would continue. I’m now partway through my third month in this situation, but unlike previous updates, this didn’t have a review date. Presumably, that means it is indefinite, or until we return to the office, which is rumoured to be August/September (a friend of mine working at the Vic govt has heard unofficially they won’t be returning until 2021!).

There was a short questionnaire coming out of the office last week asking for our work preferences for when we do return. There seems a clear acceptance that it’ll be a long time until we return to the work behaviours of previous times, if ever. They asked, basically, how many days do we want in the office, and for our preference on which days. Quite a few people put just the single day, and almost every one of them selected to work early in the week. I said two days and gave Thursday/Friday as my preference – because Friday is chilled anyway, and if I want to go out for a drink I need to be in the city for it. And who wants to work on a Monday?

Financially, I’m surviving, though it’s getting tighter. The other day I did my sums and figured I was out of pocket about $2200 since the reduced hours were set (that’s the net of tax). That’s been offset by a reduction of rent of about $900, and other reduced living costs – travel, lunch/coffee, social stuff. The rent reduction is yet to be formally ratified, however, and has now ended. If for some reason they decide not to grant the application I’ll need to cough up $900 I don’t have. And though I’m saving money in some areas, I’m spending more in others – electricity, groceries, and so on.

I’m wary of what’s to come. The JobKeeper is due to end in September, which will put huge stress on employers. Standby for a second round of job cuts unless the government chooses to do something about it. I’m fearful that my reduced hours will continue beyond that and, worst-case scenario, that my salary will be seen as an expense that can be cut. Most of my job is value-add, but not critical to the day to day running of the business. This is ironic when you consider that right about now I was due to receive the promised promotion and pay rise.

Obviously, I’m reflecting on my situation, and casting an eye towards other prospects. Not many going around at the moment, which is no surprise.

I spoke to my immediate team leader earlier. Budgets have been approved, but he has no idea what it means for me. He suggested maybe I could check if the vendor I work with closely might have interest in engaging me on the day I’ve got off. That’s how much the world has changed – we’re actually encouraged to find other work in our stand-down period. In this case, it represents a fair conflict of interest, I would think. I wonder if the very fact he’s mooted it as an option is significant.

This is one reason I’m reluctant to use up my annual leave plugging the hole. I might need it if somehow I end up redundant. Right now there’s about $12K worth. That’d tide me over for a few months if push came to shove.

Stay tuned.