This one was getting a bit long, so I took mercy on you all and decided it should be a two-parter...
I’ll start with a question. What do you do? Go on, tell me.
Any fellow philosophy graduates will point out that this can be interpreted in a number of ways. Linguistically it is ambiguous: if designed to focus on the present, it would be worded ‘what are you doing?’; neither does it isolate the past, but surely can’t expect future prediction. Chronology notwithstanding, the question is vague: one ‘does’ many things, consciously or otherwise, simultaneously or over time; are we asking what I enjoy doing, or what I do frequently, notably, or well?
The fact is though that not one of you would ever waste the time that I just did considering any such permutations, because the question is a conversation staple, and you all know exactly what is meant by it. Hell, I dare say that some of you had to check yourselves, lest you launch into the stock answer that has pulled you through many a nervous cocktail party conversation. It’s still tricky to paraphrase accurately though: “What do you do for a living?” is perhaps the best attempt, but it smuggles ambiguities that can be addressed only separately by such alternatives as “What do you do all day?”, “What is your current job?” and “What would you say is your ‘career’?”.
Ok, ok, perhaps I’ve given more thought to the exact meaning of these four simple words than is strictly necessary, but I’ve done so with good reason. I won’t kid myself that I’m alone in this, but the reason for tonight’s blog is that I, more than most, have never really come up with a satisfactory answer to The Question.
What do I do? Well, in keeping with the excessively analytical tone of my introduction, I intend to answer in a number of ways (and tenses): What have I done - back home? What have I been doing - in Australia? What am I good at doing? What would I like to do? What WILL I actually do in the end? So, you’re getting four courses of fact with a dessert of wild speculation. It’s all a bit all about me, but hey, if you’re jealous, write your own blog…
2003-’09: The Wilderness Years
This is The Real CV (or ‘resumé’ for local readers) - a warts and all run down of jobs that I’ve had, leaving plenty unspoken from before graduation, but every story needs a starting point and I choose that summer seven years ago. You see, not only had I got The Degree - arts, red brick, 2:1, job done - but I’d got The Job as well. KPMG, Corporate Finance, top employer don’t you know. That’s me sorted then, and Dad toasting the success with his mates in the Bell & Cross. In hindsight, I should have taken one of the other two offers on the table, from Carillion and National Express.
You see, I’m good with numbers. No worries with adding and subtracting and what have you. Have you seen Rain Man though? Where the numbers don’t make sense as soon as it’s currency? Yup, finance really isn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, KPMG claim to employ ‘great people’ and that’s exactly what they do; I had a great time during my year there and made some awesome friends, a few of whom I still have today. Key to this rapport was the success of the Friday Club - a meeting of minds over beer(s) and a sandwich, coordinated by my weekly inspirational emails and associated social initiatives. The people were just my type; the work wasn’t.
Onwards and downwards then, to London. Free from the shackles of corporate drudgery I headed south to pursue my dream - well that’s one way of looking at it. At the very least it was something to do and I’m glad I did it. Studying journalism with pub work on the side was great fun, and once qualified I grasped what looked like a golden opportunity. England was to have its first national sports newspaper, and I was on the inaugural writing team! All we had to do was show the market what the paper could be, through mock copies and a website, and the funding would materialise.
Azzy was his name, this guy, and man he was enthusiastic. Really made us all want to work for him, day after day, for free. It was such fun, really it was, and again I made great friends; press passes to a range of sporting events and an intriguing drinking session with John Barnes were not to be sniffed at either, but when Azzy absconded to New York after nine months of false promises and tens of thousands of unpublished words, it’s fair to say that journalism and I had got off somewhat on the wrong foot…
A very merry Christmas behind the bar at the Vine was all the confirmation I needed that the London adventure had run its course, and soon I found myself settling into The Default Job. As an administrative assistant at Birmingham University’s Medical School, I made practically no career progress whatsoever, and I did so for an embarrassingly low salary. However, I stayed with one employer for two and a half years, and didn’t hate it. Result! Right?
The Med School left me feeling that I had a ‘trade’, of sorts. Namely, doing the stuff that people do at their desks while other people make things, change things and improve people’s lives. Office work. That’s my bag, baby. The one way of life that us creative types are supposed to abhor turns out to be my default setting when it comes to putting bread on the table. Funny thing is, I’m pretty sure that I’m best remembered at the uni for the Friday Afternoon Survey - a weekly interactive newsletter that entertained and integrated a variety of colleagues and showcased my writing talents.
People say that the left side of my CV looks really good. There’s no job too big, no qualification too lofty, for me to attack it with a gutful of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the right side of my CV tends to betray a failure to see things through. The MA in Human Resource Management that Dad suggested, and paid for, while I was working at the Med School, is perhaps the worst example of this trend. Good times, good friends, some useful learning and, of course, plenty of great emails and social instigation, but my heart was nowhere near this one. At least I finally learnt that, no matter how good the advice, to follow it blindly is an easy way out to the next dead end.
Comedy duo Armstrong & Miller ran a series of sketches featuring career challenged individuals who turn to teaching when all else fails. I even joked about them when I took my latest career turn, but in hindsight, let’s face it, the joke was on me. It’s a real shame, because it was Mum’s turn to be particularly pleased at this plan, because it really was entirely my own. Nothing’s simple in reality though, and, look, teaching wasn’t for me, ok? Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty talented in the classroom, but we all know there’s more to the life of a teacher than that. Trust me, I’m marrying one!
We had a great time though, all of us being back at uni. Some of the younger trainees were nervous, but I soon sorted that out with a few well planned socials and some reassuring emails. Is this getting familiar yet? I suppose what we’re learning here is that, whatever my actual job is, where I really excel is in writing quality prose to improve the lives of my colleagues, and attending the consequent social events with requisite gusto. The only exception being that job where I got to write quality prose all day - only that job didn’t pay…
Finally tonight then, I’d like to talk about Rosie, my Angel of Employment Mercy. If only all of us could have a friend for a boss! It would solve all manner of work related problems. The great thing is, I WAS good for Rosie - and still might be, but more on that next time. What made it all possible though was her flexible approach to my schedule. I haven’t mentioned depression previously in this blog, and at this point, where I raise the issue, the worst was well and truly over, but there’s nothing like someone with Rosie’s compassion and understanding to eke out the best results from someone still busy putting the condition behind them.
Well, thanks to Rosie I’ve got event management on my CV too - still doing the office stuff mostly, mind - and a dynamite reference that’s been carted around a veritable phalanx of potential employers. More on that next time though, where I talk you through the latest chapter in my ‘career’. So far, I’ve left out all manner of roles and experiences, from great fun knocking down houses for Dad, to escaping the 7/7 bombings because I didn’t fancy going to work, but there you have it: the rise, fall, fall some more, but mostly hover around the same altitude feeling somewhat confused and more than a little tired, of Paul John Reed Tooby.
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