Winter is a difficult time! Watching the sun set below the western Johannesburg skyline as early as 17h30, waking to a cold darkness that only begins to feel the light of dawn by around 06h30 makes it hard to feel that life in the cubicle is not sucking all that is good.
I’m playing secretary and delivery driver much of the time on this current project. Organising ahead to ensure people are there to deliver to often has them saying to me “Anytime, I’m there from 6am” or “Of course yes, I’m working late tonight, here until 9pm“. The scary thing is that these are not isolated long work days for these people. This is the norm in the project/engineering industry. The comments are normally made in such a way as to garner firstly, a little sympathy, but secondly and most importantly, they seem to demand some kind of respect. It’s as if all this ongoing effort and 80hr work-weeks are somehow a badge of honour, an indication of their commitment to their career, their team, their corporate masters.
I don’t bother to reply at all to such nonsense anymore. Inwardly I just give a wry smile and plan to live my life as best I can while still in this cubicle hell. That means 40hr weeks, max, for this slave. Don’t expect me to deliver your documents by 6am on a cold winter’s morning. I have better things to do, a life to be lived, some better kind of balance to be struck.
Even though I pretty much have managed to achieve this particular form of balance in the last ten years it’s just not enough anymore. The pressures of even this 40hr work week and life in “the world class shitty” have worn me down. The last 2 weeks have been grim, filled with a myriad of obstacles and challenges to the good life, darker and colder than the depths of an arctic winter.
As a sailor there is one thing I am sure of. Storms will blow at the most inconvenient of times. They will test you to your limits, threaten the safety of the boat, take you to the edge of sanity. But then they are gone, the wind and waves calm and the feeling of satisfaction one feels having managed the yacht through the roughest of patches is a rare and awesome reward to one’s soul.
So too must this current rough patch, this life-storm come to an end.
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York !”
Lets hope Shakespeare was right.
Yesterday was one of those days, a blue Monday in the middle of the week. One of those days where everything seems set against you and your purpose.
It’s interesting that these kind of days always seem more likely when one isn’t quite so happy with the way things are.
Coming off a bit of a grumpy day after closing down the MX-5
opportunity disaster [and to be honest, berating myself a little for my weakness and inconsistencies] yesterday just flowed on from there.
The factory in China is the bane of my existence at the moment. They debate every little request, usually with ‘No’. It’s super-frustrating trying to meet a customer project specification with a crowd like that who doesn’t even address the project specification but just forge ahead with their standard concept.
Anyhow, that’s par for the course as a PM, so no real complaints other than I’m tired and want to try something different down in Glencairn. Biggest challenge is, and remains, the wonderful back-office staff and unfathomable procedures, processes, forms and ‘rules’. On top of all the other frustrations, when someone cannot give me a good reason or cannot explain what a piece of data required is for other than ‘That’s the form, that’s what is required, I don’t no why” then I find it hard not to show my frustration.
The point of all this whining ?
I’ll tell you why. Because I care! I care to be seen as a competent professional. That’s what I do and to a certain extent, it reflects on my abilities when I cannot focus the team all in the same direction. I don’t buy into the CMA management approach, a woolly masses “as long as it’s someone else’s fault” approach. I’m invested in the job while I’m here and take it’s success seriously [probably too seriously if I’m honest with myself]
I suppose the other thing that grates, a lifelong ‘wound‘ that gets prodded with regularity, is the fact that no-one listens. I hate that, especially when their stance has no logic behind it [and let’s be honest, “because it’s always been done this way” is just plain stupid, like a parent telling their child ‘because I told you so‘].
After a stint away from this specific corporate, I certainly was under no illusions that things would be different in the back-office on my return. What I do find strange in myself is that the frustration levels seem similar to those when I left. This is surprising. The role I left behind, a middle management position, had a direct requirement to address the engineering and project management efficiencies and as a result it was difficult to take the ‘not listening‘ to heart. Returning as a bottom-feeder, there is no such requirement, no reason for me to feel it my responsibility to identify and correct broken and inefficient processes. And yet, there it is, the same feeling of frustration?
Life is too short for this. I’ve made my choices and I’m satisfied with where my
career job is and will be. It’s not always like this and as life progresses, this kind of knee-jerk response becomes less and less frequent, an aberration in what is normally a fairly relaxed, stress free life. The challenge is to withstand the constant barrage of this for another 5-10 years and then, let’s be honest, the new life will have different challenges.
As in all things, living on the edge is fine in short bursts, but when it’s done continuously, living with no buffer, no breathing space any small thing can turn into a major life-threatening crisis. The buffer in this case is a Cape Town break. The decision to not do the China trip is taken, no matter the consequences. Time to forge ahead and take a couple of days to recharge that buffer.
So today was the first day of the new job. I had high hopes of a wonderful experience where everything was ready and waiting for me, desk, laptop, fuel card …….
Yeah, ok. So I remain naive and stupid !
I’ve been allocated a filthy-looking desk right on the corridor entrance by the printer, in an open plan area. Lovely. There are no key’s for the drawers [which by the way are still filled with someone’s stuff] and the setting was just so awful I immediately suggested, and did, move to a smaller off-aisle hot-seat [but which has no phone].
Anyway, whining aside, it was definitely ‘just another day in the office”, certainly not an exciting experience. The people you speak to seem to expect you to say “Wow. Awesome. What an exciting new beginning!”. They really, really do.! Strange beings these sheep.
Today got me thinking that the question that has to be asked by others is “Wow, he certainly seems to be going backwards in his career doesn’t he?” [well OK maybe it’s only occurred to me]. After all, many of the people who once worked under me in this organisation are now higher up the hierarchy than I am today.
The thing that directly and subversively supports this point of view is the modern corporate ‘Secrecy Act’ which compels each and every employee to jealously guard their financial deal with the organisation. Inside the corporate, without knowing what the other sheep earn, it’s impossible for the flock to judge each other’s progress other than to look at their position on the ladder. In a similar fashion, the world outside the job looks to things like spending on houses, cars and lifestyle to make an assessment on earnings. Both views are totally flawed.
I’m working on the tail-end of this career, this job, for the sole purpose of increasing the stash as fast and as soon as possible. We’ve pretty much determined what ‘enough’ is and when we hit that level of savings it wil be “Adios Amigos”. The salary that I’m earning is way higher than it would have been had I stayed and climbed the ladder. Before I left I was earning well and the company move, coupled with a good 14% increase in 2014, means I’m way ahead of the current pack, even with their promotions. There’s no guarantee that 2015 will be anything as rosy but that’s so far in the future as to be a non-issue at the moment.
So yes it’s definitely more of the same. But with a more concrete, finite time-frame plan that is keenly desired by both of us. I just have to suck this up for another 5 years or so, keep the spend down and the savings injection up and we’re in with a fighting chance. That knowledge on it’s own is a great motivator.
It’s the last push to more freedom. So bring on the new beginnings !!
It’s politically correct for corporates to encourage the sheep to document and file development plans. Designed by some back-office HR dweeb, they supposedly show you that the company is interested in you and your growth.
The standard question, both in interviews and annual reviews – “Where do you see yourself in the short to medium term?” And of course the answer, in general, is just what they want to hear, something like “I want to be the boss” or “I want to be a better sheep“. It then gets filed away in the dusty, digital archives only to be pulled out a year later and used as a measure of whether you progressed during the year or not.
At my most recent interview my half-truthful answer to the question was: “I don’t know. I just want to do my current role well“. It’s half true because I know exactly what my medium term goals are. It’s just that I don’t think they want to know.
While there is still life in the present:
Maximise my income,
Minimise my stress,
Live a little more,
With the ultimate goal of:
Cashing in my chips age 55 [2024 AD], living by the beach, cruising my sailboat in the bay and working a flexible 20-30hr week.
Will it be easy? No! Will it be certain? No! Will it be worthwhile? Definitely. I don’t exactly know how but I am resolved and if there is one characteristic of mine that will see this through to fruition it’s that of “I do what I say!” And so I’m putting this out there. Firstly to cement the dream in my mind and secondly to tell the world “this is how it shall be“.
No one has ever accused me of being P.C. and I’m not about to start now. So in answer to the question “What are your career goals?” I say “Roll on 2024!”
Complaining begets more complaints. Anger begets more anger. And optimism begets more optimism. – Sinek
And hard work, dedication and competence are rewarded financially [in my experience] if you are savvy enough understanding the rules and constraints of the corporate and it’s people. Well-timed career moves are vital to put your earnings at market levels, but too many well-timed moves will set you back and give you a reputation as a flight risk.
Bottom line is “Don’t just quit when the going gets rough”. You need to give anything enough time and effort to work through the inevitable teething pain. Once you have learned the organisation, the systems, the people and after a year or two still cannot get your head around them then, by all means move on.
But realise this – the grass next door is never greener or if it is it’s probably because of the large amount of manure there. If you aren’t happy where you are chances are good you will not be happy where you are going.
So, be 100% clear on why you are leaving and what you are moving toward. Then step out in faith !
So, that said, I can honestly say I gave the current gig a good push. But there were certainly 2 insurmountable issues that could not / would not change. One was a person, undermining my efforts and authority, the other a systems, policy issue that was set to rob me of a substantial portion of my income each month. So the decision was actually very easy once the alternative offer came through. No hesitation whatsoever.
Yet I remain totally clear – corporates are corporates with only one priority – themselves. The new gig will nto be all roses but the more time goes by, the shorter the term of pain that needs to be endured.
Bring on 55 , SR and FI !
At this stage of my working life I am under no illusions that a move to another corporate job is going to be drastically different. None whatsoever. So why the move?
It’s been a challenging year and a bit, one in which I’ve been stretched technically. That has been an excellent experience, something that was long overdue. But, they haven’t all been pleasant challenges.
The fact that I’m held accountable for delivery in an organisation where I have limited influence or control is mind-boggling. The matrix interference here is other-wordly ! And there are a myriad of other niggles and gripes many of which, should I be honest, are going to follow me to the next gig.
But, the following are the actual insurmountable ones:
At the end of the day the workload, the office politics and people issues .. they are all manageable to a degree. What has really pushed me over the top is the threat to my finances from the policy changes.
After 45 years in this game of life people still haven’t a clue of who I am or what I’m about. If there is one thing about me you should know it’s that I aim to “do what I say”. In general life seems full of people who are exactly the opposite. Big talk and little action folks, the squeeky hinges that get all the attention. I’ve bee open, honest and fair here. I’ve approached the organisation with my concerns and needs. All to no avail. It’s time to stop beating my head against the blood-stained wall.
While I’m under no illusions that there wont be other difficult challenges ahead, at least the allowance issue is resolved. Today is the day to move on! Here’s to a good life until the next roadblock is thrown our way!
“I sometimes wonder about the definition of ‘success’. I have an 18yr old son who still pops his head around the corner and says ‘nite dad’. That’ll do for me!”
It’s not that the relationship doesn’t have it’s ups and downs – they all do – but that even after a lifetime we’re still on pretty good terms. I’ve worked with those who’ve sacrificed family on the career ladder. Are they more or less happy? Don’t know. Don’t care. All I know is I’m pretty happy with the way my life has turned out with respect to the balance between ‘career’, earnings, leisure and family.
But life is entering a new phase now. The Jhb-Grindstone is slowly wearing away at us. With the kids finishing up school in the next couple of years, the time is right for a major change – city, job, leisure.
I’m tired of waking up each morning with project challenges buzzing my brain, every day. Tired of manipulative, unhappy customers who act like spoiled toddlers trying to get their way.
“How will we fund life?” remains a huge unanswered question. We could [and probably will] end up selling Highland, leaving a little chunk of cash to earn interest each month. But even a million in the bank these day’s doesn’t get you much more than R5-6k a month. So work it will need to be. But what? I suppose it will end up being another engineering PM job but my dreamy, idealistic side hopes that I’ll supplement interest earned with a little DIY business servicing yachts, homes and friendly people leaving plenty of time for sea, sun and sailing [we all have to dream].
Anyway, the die is cast, we have a street address. Ocean Blue will be heading home soon and how things will work out from there …. we’ll just have to see.