In June of this year I was called into a meeting with one of our Directors. Ordinarily, this would never have happened as she was way up the ladder to deal with the likes of me but, as our buffer was on holiday, she stepped in. She wanted 'to see how I was getting on', which is probably the last thing she wanted to know, really. I’d be surprised if my wellbeing ranked highly on her list of concerns. Instead, we played the game of rictus smiles and half-hearted laughs as we filled in our time before the real business was addressed. Then it came. I was asked if I was 'happy'. That was a pretty deep question to be asked at any time and for a second I considered a pathos dipped speech about my lack of football career, how it seemed that I was constantly overlooked by Thandie Newton and how Piers Morgan drove me to murderous thoughts but I knew what she meant. Was I happy here?
If anything it was a rhetorical question. What she really meant was that she was unhappy. Unhappy with me.
I knew that this chat, this ‘catch up’ was coming. A day earlier she’d commented that the page of data I had on my screen had been there untouched for hours and thereby insinuated that I had done little work to push it along. She didn’t realise that the monitor was a split screen and my laptop was working away below, unseen to the untrained eye. I had been working, albeit with a sigh as another day became another week became another year became a lost life.
'A SENTENCE LATER I WAS WAVING GOODBYE TO A TWENTY-YEAR MEDIA SALES CAREER'
She knew we were about to go our separate ways. It had been hinted at for weeks and, although they wouldn't say it, my departure would be welcomed and an ambitious young buck, who had never heard of The Smiths, would soon settle in to my chair. I was ready for this and had plans but I wasn’t ready to announce them just yet. I wanted to do it when it suited me. I could have stonewalled her and added to the false bonhomie with grins and shrugs of my own but I was tired. Tired of the whole futile exercise. I didn’t want to play this game anymore. It had long since bored me to perdition and beyond. I leapt in and made my announcement. A sentence later I was waving goodbye to a twenty-year media sales career.
This was no snap decision. The writing on the wall was there for all to see and it was a shame in some ways. I’d enjoyed some of my time there - strapped to a phone or slogging up and down motorways but over the years the prospect of more empty time manacled to that desk had dampened any remaining enthusiasm. I worked in trade exhibitions and only six months earlier had worked on an event with which I had a passion, but thanks to a few internal changes I was placed on a show which held absolutely no interest - literally none at all. I should have left then but the commission was good. After a while that wasn’t enough, as even the added incentive of money evaporates after a while. I was aware that time was nudging me in the ribs. Time for a change.
But what change? The trouble was that I was well aware of what I didn't want but when it came to the next step I was at a total loss. What I didn't want was clear. I didn’t want another sales target. I didn’t want to look elated when the company did well. I didn’t want to attend another sales conference and sit through high-octane lectures about ‘hitting our numbers’. I didn't want that. My applause at those events was soulless. I felt like the most downtrodden North Korean citizen emptily saluting a leader. I was a corporate fraud and they knew it.
I CAN'T 'DO DRINKS' -- I GO TO THE PUB
I’m 46 in November. Most of the people my age are managers as I was years earlier. However, I had long decided that the managerial cloak wasn’t for me. I wasn’t bothered if people were late. I didn't care if they left a bit early. I had no interest in control and discipline. This, apparently, was not the right attitude.
There were other factors too. I didn't fit in to a team mentality. See, I can't whoop. No. I can’t high five. I can’t ‘smash it’ when ‘achieve’ will do. I can’t ‘do drinks’ – I go to the pub. I can’t fake love for an overlord who doesn’t know my name. I can't sound a horn when I've sold something. I like to go to work, do my bit, and then go home. I'm not much of a mixer. Oh, I had mates there but things seldom went out of office hours. The company ran social events so we could all ‘bond’. I went to one – a quiz night. I went because I thought I could win. I did. Go me. I never went again.
You’d think my age might be a reason for this mealy-mouthed approach. I was older than most people in this thriving young enterprise but that wasn’t the case. Truth is, I’ve always been like this. I wasn’t critical of such people or ideals - there were some lovely and glorious people there whom I openly adore. It’s just that I didn’t care. I couldn't fake an interest in the company’s common good. To their credit, my lack of engagement wasn’t really deemed a problem. I made a great deal of money for a great many people and was well paid for it with a car thrown in. We both knew what we were doing. As Senator Pat Geary tells Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part Two, we were both part of the same conspiracy.
You spend so much of your life at work. You see your loved ones for a few hours a day and a bunch of strangers for twice as long. Not right, is it? There’s nothing you can do about it – we all have to work after all but we do get a say in what we want to do. We forget that from time to time – the concept of choice and change. It took me two decades to move from one life to a happier one. But which happier one? Liverpool, Thandie Newton and Piers were not playing ball.
There was one thing I wanted to do but it seemed a bit far-fetched.
Six years ago, a few mates and I raised some cash for a former footballer. We worked hard, had a laugh and managed to help one of our heroes. It took us a year before we reached our target and we soon returned to our normal, everyday lives. Something changed though. It lit a fire, or rather a small smouldering ember, under me as I can honestly say that I achieved more job satisfaction from those few months than in my entire working life. I loved fundraising. I loved the feeling that I'd done something to improve someone else's life. I never really got that with exhibition sales. I still went to my normal job though and wasted more years. It really was a nice car.
During the odd sulk at work I’d edit my CV and apply for a few charity jobs. I even managed the odd interview but my lack of experience in that world went against me. Time and again I would reach the latter stages only to fall at the last hurdle. Finally, a week before this meeting, someone took a chance and opened up a fresh challenge. The change had finally been made. It just took a firm decision, some not-entirely subtle persuasion from my former charges and a kind-hearted fundraising director.
SO, WHERE IS THANDIE NEWTON ANYWAY?
Of course, this is just me. It could go the other way. There may be hundreds of you who can no longer bear the public sector and crave breakfast meetings and the new argot that goes with media sales - from high value donors to high fives, as it were - but this is my tale and you'll have to get your own if you don't like it. The point is, change is usually an option.
We can’t all walk into our ideal jobs, There are restrictions are on us all, after all - wages, opportunity etc but it's always worth remembering that you never HAVE to work anywhere where you're not happy. You can leave. You can change course. You don't have to take it. You can at least look and ask. That costs nothing.
I've been in my current role for two months and I love it. I've no idea what the next day will bring but I no longer pray for Friday. I’d have never thought possible. Sure, there'll be frustrating times to come but I'll never forget the despondency that led me there in the first place and I can't allow myself to go back to that. I left in July with four years on the clock. There was to be no speech, no card, no leaving do and no gift. They didn't give a toss. It appals me that I once did.
But, no regrets. We're only here for a short time so why waste it on nothing? I walked out a little angry and upset at the indifference but those days are gone now. We must make up for the past by securing the future. Goals are important even if it's for a slight change. If you're not cut out for something then at least try to move on. There's little sense in living a brief life with no joy. I'm no example of that - I took too long - but as Morrissey once said 'There is another world. There is a better world. There must be.'
He's right too.
I’m just waiting for Thandie Newton now.
Karl is a former writer for Through The Wind and Rain and a whole host of others who are desperate for copy. Troubled with the modern world, grimaces at ball-playing centre halves and frowns at fancy-dan back heels. Apt to talk about the magnificence of Ray Kennedy wherever possible.
Feature image: drothamel
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- The top 10 ways men are getting a raw deal at work
- If you’re under 40, the biggest gender pay gap is experienced by men
- Male graduates caught in gender employment gap
- Lack of men in childcare is driving gender pay gap says UK fatherhood charity