Monday, 14 December 2009

A time of change

Change is unsettling. It's exciting. It can also be deelpy troubling depending on what stage of the 'change cycle' one is at.
The standard 'change model' oft referred to by behavioural psychologists and psychotherapists suggests that there are approximatley five stages of change.
In synopsis:
1) Disatisfaction with present circumstances
2) I quite fancy a change
3) Investigation of potential change 'states/circumstances'
4) Choose something, and make the change (you may not like the change and go back to an earlier stage).
5) Satisfaction with change and continuing on new path.
At present I think it is safe to say I am securely in stage 3, with a deep desire to take the leap into number 4. You see for me, thought not necessarily all, stage 3 is the troubling stage. Apparantly so many options, with one big decision to make.
Should I go to Australia? Should I do a PhD? Should I go work in a vineyard in France, learning the language while voraciously consuming vast quantities of vino rouge?
But surely thats exciting? Surely you feel like your 18 all over again? These are both reasonable questions a sentient individual might conceivably put forth. And yes, partly thats true. The difficulty is, if stage 1 is 'hell' and stage 5 'heaven,' then stage 3 is a veritable 'purgatory.' When you dont know what direction your headed, the limbo induced by wondering whether in just a short time you could be welcomed by St.Peter at those pearly gates, or alternatively damned to an eternity of hellfire at the 'l'hotel de Hades' leaves one feeling mildly queasy.
However, all is not lost. I feel as though I may be extracting myself from this purgatorial maze. My epileptic googling and 'field trips' have managed to narrow down my choices somewhat. In crude terms, with the proviso that I can always insert a 3rd, 4th, nth option; these are:
1) Move 'down under' (that includes the 'bleating' possibility of family there you see)
2) Do a PhD at QUB (previously a total non-starter but has recently pushed other fine opportunities out of 2nd place). By the way, QUB is Queens Uinversity Belfast (my home town; I currently reside in London) for the uninitiated.
Im currently feeling a little lazy, and still got much epileptic googling to do as I contemplate my next move up the change ladder. While negotiating the snakes, I will end my entry for today on the request that you vote on what you have learned to date.
My next entry will be a sholarly critique of these (and possibly more) options.
For now, enjoy your equilibria x.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Journey to Portsmouth on a Monday afternoon - Anyone?

The train exits Clapham Junction and I bypass the familiar terrain of Balham with the Bedford and Tooting Common registering on my mental inventory of well defined local land marks. A childlike sense of enthusiasm envelopes me as I anticipate cutting through towns and villages I have never laid eyes on as I embark on my impromptu Monday afternoon jaunt to Portsmouth harbour.

This temporary wave of euphoria quickly gives way to a prevailing sense of impending doom that permeates my consciousness on an almost constant basis in my battle deep in the eye of a 'hypochondriacal storm.' It is this 'storm' that has prompted my departure from the City (something I have never done other than when obliged by work committments in my two and a half years in London).I long for a sense of peace, of clarity of newfound resolve as I wrestle with my conflicting impulses and yearnings in the hope that a navigable path to a betterlife will emerge. You see I feel trapped...utterly trapped. Here I am at 27, battling a reasonably severe form of hypochondriasis/generalised anxiety disorder (take your pick), whilst stagnating in a job I detest and am not particularly proficient at.How do I extricate myself from what can only be described as a quagmire of mediocrity topped up with lashings of fear and anxiety? Well the primary hurdle initially anyhow, appears to be financial. Sure I could take time out to retrain but how do I finance this?"

We are now approaching Redhill," the familiar female voice announces over the carriages internal speaker system. Redhill - a few get on, a few get off, leaving carriage volume static. Apparantly annual passanger usage based on sales of tickets in the financial year 2007/08 meant that approximately 3.5million passangers passed through this little interchange point on the Brighton mainline. I say 'little,' but 3.5m passangers equips this little (woops, there I go again but it does seem little) station with more gravitas than I initially attributed.

I listen more intently now to the future stops on our journey ahead to Portsmouth, the poor condition of my contact lenses meaning I have to squint slightly to make out the rolling ticker tape of destinations presented ahead so my auditory sense suddenly becomes more acute. I catch 'Gatwick Airport.' This ellicits a momentary surge in serontonin which I can barely understand but reason that it is induced by my hope that this approaching moment results in the departure of most of my fellow passangers so that I can enjoy the rolling hills of the English countryside I have so longed to see in uninterrupted bliss.'Gatwick Airport' passes and I observe that a substantial number of passengers depart, and to further improve my mood realize that I am travelling in the correct coach (coach 4 since you ask as coaches 5-8 depart at Horsham). I wonder to myself how that works in practice? Does a new driver with his own carriage attach himself to the departing coaches? Or do they simply maintain their momentum and chug happily along to their final destination?

The jitteriness induced by the grande Americano I consumed prior to departure at Clapham Junction is beginning to marginally ease. This is most welcome. It signifies the beginning’s of a return to safety, to calm. I am always acutely sensitive to the effects of caffeine, and when not in the midst of one of my ‘episodes’ I simply relish the atrophocation of the caffeine induced edges. When, as now I am in the ‘eye,’ the pleasure is tinged with the fear as to what fear inducing symptom lurks in the coming shadows.

We reach Crawley. The train passes a level crossing that elicits strong memories of the ‘Belfast – Larne’ mainline of which I am so familiar. As a teenager I used to travel to see my first girlfriend via this route to her home in Whitehead. The crossing reminds me of the otherwise innocuous stop of Greenisland, where as you exit the station you catch a brief glimpse of a red and white crossing gate enclosed by a leafy suburban avenue.

Finally, we appear to have reached the life affirming expanse of the non-urban arena. I incline my head to the right, resting it on the upper part of my inadequately proportioned seat and I gaze out at the neatly ploughed fields, that impress with their scale and emptiness. When you spend so long in the city, the Surrey countryside can seem like the Russian steppes.

As we continue, the backdrop becomes more undulating, with ‘wind’ bushes clearly visible in the middle distance. As I consider the wonderful calmness the setting brings, the train begins to slow and we jolt to a halt at Horsham. I realize that Horsham is lodged in my mind as the point where the train divides itself in two and we lose four carriage loads of fellow travellers, en route to their myriad destinations for their own unique reason – I muse that I am perhaps the only individual on board who has absolutely no ‘conventional’ reason to be in transit. My journey is not adding to our cumulative domestic output, it is not to visit a sick relative, nor is it even to take a day trip to France… my journey is simply a search for release.

The as yet unmentioned woman to my right finally makes contact with the unfortunate person she has been trying to reach for the past 30 minutes on her cellphone. Her voice is truly awful, although I can’t work out whether it has been induced by some sort of neurological illness or merely another example of the often appalling failings of the British state school system. It is a shrill, throaty bark – the sound one might expect of Pauline Quirke’s children had they ran off and be raised by wolves.

In proper countryside now. I feel I can almost taste the pristine air, despite being ensconced in my warm little moving shell, an imposter lasering through this tranquil, green valley. Hold on a sec, perhaps ‘imposter’ is the wrong description. There is something oddly congruent about this sleek urban shuttle, being comforted by it’s green rural antecedent, looking down benevolently on this young upstart that will long have rusted and decayed when the hills are still basking in the winter sun.

The train begins to slow as we approach Barnham, and I spot a middle aged woman with redwood hair walk through a boggy field, flanked by her beautiful golden retriever. I once more consider the juxtaposition of old and new, as I spot the cellphone pressed tightly to her left ear. Is this now the optimal state for us humans living in economically advanced societies? To exist remotely, while still retaining full connectivity with our burnt out City comrades? It seems appealing, but clearly it is not an option open to all, rather the preserve of a select few.

The train continues south at its seemingly perfect pace, my mind going curiously blank as I let the subtle vibrations of the rock me to sleep, like a cradle for adults.

We reach Chichester and the woman sitting to my right departs. She excuses herself politely as I get up and stand in the aisle to enable a dignified departure. Her politeness chastens me slightly and for a second feel a little wave of guilt for describing her in the terms outlined earlier…..I once more drift back into my state of unthinking calm as the sea of green cascades by until I clearly notice on the ticker tape that ‘the next station is Fratton.’ I wonder is Fratton Park nearby, where Pompey play their home games? Fratton, like many of the stops on this journey is rather innocuous and appears drab and run down.

As we depart Fratton, I arrive almost immediately at Porstmouth & Southsea, but after a brief consultation with a fellow passenger I decide to remain on board to the final stop of my journey – Portsmouth harbour, where living ceases and exisiting begins.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Job Satisfaction - Shoot for the Stars or Play it Safe?

I am 27 years of age. That’s 6 years older than most of you when you graduate. By 27 you might expect me to be established in my chosen profession. Maybe my own office surrounded by pictures of family and friends, possibly even a manager with a few people reporting into me. You may even expect me to be happy and to have realized some of the dreams and ambitions I had when I graduated from this University.

Well….You would be wrong. To all intents and purposes I have a great job. I work as a management consultant in the City of London focusing on the Financial Services sector with a particular emphasis on banks. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Post credit crunch, right at the heart of where its at. I’ve been involved with the Lehman Brothers administration, and worked as part of teams assisting with major transformational change at some of the worlds largest banking institutions as mandated by high profile government legislation such as the Asset Protection Scheme.

If someone had read this to me at 21 I would have thought ‘Wow – that’s what I want. That is exactly where I want to be and what I want to do.’ Why then is it not where I want to be and what I want to do at 27?’ It is this fundamental question, or more widely ‘Why do so many people a few years post graduation find themselves deeply unhappy in their careers, bereft of the hope and idealism of those final student days (or at the very least to have adjusted their aspirational horizons to such an extent as to be unrecognizable to their pre-career selves)?

Well, it’s obvious I hear you cry! Of course we are bound to be different. The real world kicks in. We can’t all hope to be happy in our jobs, a job is a job. Everyone knows that as soon as we exit the sanctuary of our mother’s womb we get incrementally chipped at by the sculpture of cynicism until all that is left is a rancid core and the debris of our hope. Ok, maybe I went a little over the top with the metaphor but you see my point?

Perhaps this is true, but do we have to accept the tacit assumption that we must loath our work? I have recently taken to asking people the question ‘Do you enjoy your job?’ I have actually done this quite regularly over recent weeks, and even taken to compiling a record of these unsuspecting individual’s responses.

The question as to why so many of us end up doing jobs we don’t particularly like or even have respect for is most probably down to the fact that at the age of 21, or 18 when we choose our university degree, or even 16 when we choose our A levels (and thus narrowing down our potential degree options) is that we don’t have sufficient insight into ourselves to know what occupation is a best fit for our individual personalities. As I trace back how I ended up doing a job that is possibly as far removed as possible from a ‘natural fit’ to my aptitudes, I can see in retrospect that it is a direct result of decisions I took at 16, and continued to reaffirm to myself in spite of an increasing internal dissent that for myriad reasons I continued to quell. I don’t know for sure about others (yet I suspect they may have a similar tale to tell), but I pursued my ‘sensible’ career choice with little passion and much resolve.

The result? A 27 year old feeling unfulfilled and just a little resentful. This resentment has been tempered in recent weeks by the realization that had I received adequate support from teachers and careers advisors at those crucial junctures, I probably would even not have listened had they offered advice contrary to my designs at that time.

One of the tenets of contemporary CBT (or cognitive behavioural therapy) is that the individual being treated must reach the realization of the solution to the cause of their distress themselves rather than being simply told it by an experienced therapist. It is believed that coming to this realization oneself embeds the answer more deeply into the individuals consciousness, thus reducing dependence on the therapist in the longer term. I realize I have made a seemingly sudden and abstract leap but I believe that there are parallels with my arrival at the realization that the career I thought was for me at 21 is not at 27. Had someone with deep insight into my character pointed this out at 21, the realization would not be so deeply embedded as it is now.

‘Ok Andrew, I get you, we wont listen to what anyone says at 21, we will pursue what we want to do now for whatever reason is currently motivating us, and 80% of us will be unhappy on this path by the time we reach your age, great, thanks for that mate. Woopdy fucking do.’

Yes, yes I know. But there is a point to this that you can all do something about NOW. Ask yourselves honestly, ‘How well do I know myself?’ How well do I truly, truly know myself? Not the self I project onto others, or the self others project onto me, or the self my parents want me to be, the self my boyfriend/girlfriend wants me to be or even the self my dissertation wants me to be. At 21 I pursued my avenue based on my perception of how others viewed me, trying to validate that because I thought that was achievement. It is ironic that here I am at 27 contemplating a radical new direction by switching careers to journalism when I can clearly recall at 21 after my undergraduate degree contemplating such a direction. Yet I didn’t follow it through. I didn’t follow it through even though I knew deep down in my heart it was the path mapped out for me. And here I am now 6 years later feeling like groundhog day.

So this is a plea. A plea to the dreamer inside you. A plea to truth. To the truth you know about yourselves deep down inside, I said earlier in this piece that we lack sufficient insight into ourselves at 21 to know the appropriate path to take. I want to retract that. We have the insight, we just lack the confidence. The confidence that sometimes increases or dissipates with age. Your young. There is still plenty of time to change to the profession you feel is the safe option if things don’t work out on the path you truly believe is yours. So do it, follow your heart, because life’s to short, it really is. X.