What a way to make a living

An office is its own, particular type of hell. We have politics with a small p, politics with a big P. If you don’t know what that means, be grateful. Strivers and skivers start their day in tubes full of sweaty strangers, count their hours and their hopes and their dreams, confined within 4 walls with a shared, overflowing fridge and leaking toilets.

We have to navigate through all these egos to follow instructions. Or set instructions; sometimes we call the shots, except we never have the freedom to really call the shots. We have to be in line with overall strategy, vision, mindful of the needs of our staff and our customers and our stakeholders. We have to build great monuments with sodden spaghetti coated in treacle. Juggle urgent tasks that we all know aren’t urgent, while our partners ask us whether there is enough milk in for breakfast, while what is left of a social life alternates between crowding around you demanding attention, and just hanging around on Facebook with posed shots reminding you how pathetic you are, barely managing to drag yourself, alone with the little boy, to the playground in your precious free time.

I read about a lot of impressive women. Talented, driven, brilliant women, changing the world. And I wonder what I’m really good at. On dark days, I’d love to freelance somehow, to still work, but without the commute and the leadership and the performance management system. To get rid of all the admin and endless, pointless meetings. To stand up and say “I do this. I do this on my own. I am an expert”.

But it turns out, what I’m an expert in is navigating this little hell. My commute is a sanctuary; I have music and writing and reading and catching up with people. I am good at negotiating without seeming to. Some days it’s shaky, but I’m keeping my distance from the cynicism that I see colleague after colleague drown under. I think I still have integrity: I still believe in what I’m doing. The politics of this country are poisonous, but my small corner is not.

Nobody celebrates office warriors. There are no poems to people who run good meetings. Awards for completing the correct paperwork and leapfrogging 8 levels of beurocracy while still smiling and looking after a colleague whose home life is disintegrating as quickly as his professional demeanour. It is sometimes difficult to feel pride in something so god dammed grey.

I’m not an expert in anything. Except in getting things done without losing my mind. Influencing, steering, supporting. Good meetings and making the right phonecall at the right time to calm down the right person. Getting decisions made. Remembering to be nice to secretaries and PAs, who keep all of this going while being kicked or hit on subtly and repeatedly under the desk.

Today, rather than wishing I was a professional singer, a real economist instead of a former sort of analyst, an author or a mathematician, I will celebrate my task list. I’ll do 25 unrelated tasks better than anybody around me could. I’ll do another 25 perfectly averagely – but I’ll still do them, because somebody relies on them, no matter how much they numb my mind. My little man has learnt long, grammatically suspect sentences this week. I can celebrate this with glee; so I can also celebrate persuading somebody to clear my shoddy gate 1 paperwork despite us missing every deadline. Somebody has to do this. I am a small cog in a very big machine; but I am a good cog. I am the best cog, and I still, despite it all, believe in the machine.

Democracy and despair

There has been a lot of criticism today of the anger of the remain camp, the despair and derision we’ve shown towards a group of people demonstrating their democratic right to express a different opinion.

I’d like to say that it’s ok to disagree. I know democracy means sometimes accepting a decision that you think is appalling; that democracy only works if people feel safe to make these decisions.

The leave campaign said the short term economic shock would damage us for years. All the world leaders that we could possibly respect pleaded with us not to go. The young people in this country, who will be affected by it the most, told us not to do this.

Every single expert said that Brexit was a bad idea, and now we all have to sit around patiently, really hoping they’re all wrong for an unknown period of time.

Going against all of this experience and expertise to follow people who do not, and will not ever, have the best interests of the majority of this country at heart, simply feels like lunacy. And pretending that the decision to leave has been driven by anything other than anger and fear with a small side of racism is yet another lie from the leavers.

Consolidation and unity? What the fuck is the point?

Battling for balance

balance-110850_1280It’s been two months since you went back to work, my beautiful friend. You look tired. There was no food in the house when we arrived for the weekend. You abandoned your little man to feed himself to take a call. Your husband makes digs at you as he takes over. He is pulling his weight. But he looks wild eyed and tired and unsure how he got here.

I recognise it. I reflect it. Less now, a year in, but those early months still echo. Ambition, which used to be a calm pillar on which you climbed and leant, is a weight you drag behind you as you scrabble across quicksand.

That year away from the office ticks in those first days. That clock, ruthlessly judging us, asking if our achievements are enough, ticks. Peers are promoted beyond us; our seniors are younger. We see women without children; men with children; move faster, work harder, do better. We have to leave at 4, so that urgent, high profile task goes elsewhere. Or gets taken home, distracting through the bedtime routine, worked on finally with half-closed eyes and the humming of the baby monitor.

We were young and promising; then just promising. And now we should have moved to successful, but what is successful enough? In the cold light of day, I am happy with my choices, but when I’m shy in a meeting, when I’m overlooked for a job; the ticking of that clock is suffocating. It drowns out all reason.

I’m proud of you, my beautiful friend, for how hard you’re fighting. I know that the fight will become easier. As you get more confident, you’ll be fighting from a position of strength, not scrapping from behind. When you have less to prove, you can delegate and prioritise and let some of this shit just slide. But be scrappy for now. This work/life balance myth has got to be worth battling for.

Best laid plans

I get completely British when the sun comes out. I must be outside. I must be having fun. I. Must. Make. The. Most. Of. The. Day. 

It sends my pretty laid back husband spare. I think I’ve started to manage it well though. Hint of a sun on the weather app, and I’m making elaborate plans for how to spend the day. The key is not to tell him. So I pack the bags up, prepare the food, the night before. I surprise him with breakfast, casually mention what we could do now, and before he know it, the three of us are outside by 10am, having some organised fun. With only a minor meltdown if the big man suggests something spontaneous (or moves too slowly).

Today is the first day that the sun has come back out in a while. And the big man’s cousin and family are staying with us, so I’ve bought a mountain of picnic food, a new picnic basket, and I’ve planned my outfit and where to go, and exactly how and when we will have fun.

Instead of all that, I’m sat in my pyjamas by the cot while everybody else gets ready to go out. The “bed” I made on the floor of the nursery is by my feet, and I’m hoping that I don’t spend tonight there as well. The little man is sick. I’m a bit sick. So everybody will go out, and I’m just hoping to get to sit in our yard in the sun in peace for maybe half an hour while the little man sleeps.

We had a great holiday 2 weeks ago. We had a great bank holiday weekend at friends. I am trying very hard to remember that in a child based world you can’t rely on any plans; and we’ve just had a good run of it.

But I’m going to allow myself to be sad for 10 minutes for the day I thought I’d have. And sad for how ill my poor little man is again. And to feel guilty that I don’t seem to be able to keep him from the bugs. And to feel worried about how we’ll manage work and a sick child again this week. 

The sun is out, and I dream of a laid back life in floaty clothes, with unlimited money and a satisfying career which somehow takes up no time. And, above all, a little man without a raging fever and night terrors. I know that I am so lucky, in so many ways. But today, I’m sad.