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.


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