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Work Colleague Reads My Blog

7 min read

This is a story about being a team player...

Pokemon

A week ago I started writing, and by the time I had finished I was very angry - I had worked myself up into a rage. A close friend wrote to me immediately and said that I should reconsider what I wrote. Then, my work colleague who reads my blog replied to me. This was the moment I had been dreading: exposing myself as a lunatic to my colleagues. The mask had slipped.

My angry tirade was not directed at my workmates or management. My angry words were nothing to do with my workplace or the organisation I'm involved with, but sometimes I do write about the project I'm working on.

I suffer with imposter syndrome a great deal.

I feel very proud that I've made, what I feel is a significant contribution to a major project, but I'm also paranoid that I'm not that much of a big deal. I am, after all, just one member of a very big team. The project is costing hundreds of millions of pounds, and I'm just tinkering with one tiny part of it... and I'm just one tiny little insignificant speck. I need to curtail my delusions of grandeur, I think.

I attempt to use hard numbers to give myself some perspective: how many pieces of work have I played a significant role in delivering, versus my colleagues? How many technical obstacles have I managed to overcome? How many times have I unblocked team members and found solutions to problems? How many times have I saved the team from missing its deadlines?

Of course, I don't know the precise answers to all those questions, and to even gather the data seems to diminish the efforts of my team-mates. How arrogant of me to assume that I'm the driving force behind the success of the team I'm just one small part of. How grandiose. How awful.

I'm mindful that I don't even have the head honcho job title; the big cheese. If things screw up then I am comfortable in the knowledge that it wasn't my ultimate responsibility. There are colleagues who have the heavy burden of responsibility, which must surely slow them down and cause them to be hesitant, lest they tarnish their professional reputation. It's easy for me, mucking about doing whatever the hell I want, without a care in the world.

There is adequate evidence for my own success, productivity and achievements to go to my head, swelling my ego, without being completely delusional and unjustifiably arrogant. It would not be true to say that my contribution is ordinary; average.

My colleague has counselled me on a couple of occasions to not become obsessed with work and the project. I think that's great advice, and particularly meaningful and relevant to me, having burnt out and become sick due to overwork in the past. I know that I've got a completer-finisher personality, so I will definitely make it to the finishing line, but at great cost to my mental and physical health. I spend my evenings and weekends attempting to switch off, to have some work/life balance, but I struggle. My thoughts always gravitate back towards the project.

My thoughts often wander into the territory of wondering what my colleague thinks of me, particularly in regard to my arrogance and loathsome view that I'm some kind of hot-shot hero. I wonder how much I'm coming across as a terrible team player, entirely fixated on my own glory and somewhat denigrating the good work of my colleagues.

In reply to these doubts and worries, I have an anecdote which seems appropriate. I threw away part of the system, believing that it had been implemented in an unnecessarily complex manner. I was very pleased with myself for immensely simplifying the system, and the hard numbers were fantastic, in terms of performance improvement: a process which took several days was now running in 20 minutes. Then I started to think about the future, as the original system designers must have done, and I realised that what I had done would never work in a couple of years time: it was great for now - a huge improvement - but it was no good at all for the known future requirements. I started to think long and hard about how I would make the system support the anticipated future requirement, and I arrived back at where I had started, with a system which looked just like the original one I had thrown away. I had followed the same thinking and arrived at the same conclusion as my colleagues, and had perhaps wasted a lot of time and money making mistakes which I didn't need to make, because somebody had already thought everything through.

There is a huge temptation to believe that one could do a better job than those who have gone before, given that things often look easy and obvious to an outside observer. In my experience, once you do get the opportunity to try and improve things or implement your own ideas, then you discover all the many pitfalls which caused those who went before to have to compromise and kludge, leading to systems which look, to the outside observer, as though they could be easily improved.

It's almost an insult to my colleagues that I ripped up their work and started again with a blank piece of paper, except that's really not what happened. The new incarnation of the system is entirely based on the old one, driven by reverse-engineering. I didn't start from the original requirements and then attempt to build something brand new. I started from the requirement to make the system faster, easier to maintain and able to support new requirements, and I cherry-picked the bits that I liked - I whittled away all the 'noise' but kept the backbone. I kept the old system, but I got rid of all the layers of dust that it was caked in; I got rid of the rust and grime which had made it rather difficult to see the core functionality. It's the same system - I just stole the fundamental parts and put them into shiny new clothes. I hope my colleagues can see that their work lives on. I know that I would take it personally if I felt that something I was proud of was being thoughtlessly cast aside by a mindless vandal.

I don't know if my colleagues will ever forgive me for being such an arrogant sh1t. I don't know when my day of reckoning with reality will come, and I will come crashing down from my grandiose delusional state, and be forced to realise that I'm just a teeny tiny cog in a very big and complicated machine, and that my contribution is at best negligible. I don't know if I'll be able to avoid further insulting, diminishing and demeaning the work of my colleagues; upsetting them by suggesting that what I've done is good and what they'd done was somehow flawed or defective... insulting their legacy and insulting their hard work.

Perhaps I'm just not a team player.

 

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Decompression

3 min read

This is a story about deadlines...

Thames

I used to spend my lunchtimes eating my sandwiches by The River Thames. I can remember vividly how miserably depressed I was; how bad my suicidal impulses were. I was desperately bored and the project I was working on was doomed to failure from the very beginning, due to its tiny budget and unrealistic deadline.

Presently, I am working on a very exciting project. Well, it's not very exciting to most people, but I find it very exciting. I am much happier, because the current project has a chance of being successful, although the deadline was fairly unrealistic.

I've worked hard for a sustained period of time and I'm quite tired, although it did help having a holiday a month ago. I've worked hard but the stress levels have not been too bad. I've worked hard but I've felt productive, and I'm happiest when I'm busy, so that's fine.

It occurred to me that I will feel quite lost when the project ends. I made it my personal mission to deal with some fairly fundamental problems with the system I was working on, which were threatening to cause issues with the project. The solution required somebody to roll their sleeves up and do something drastic, which was a risk: nobody ever got fired for plodding along doing the same old thing, not rocking the boat. If I had been involved in a significant expenditure of time and effort which had subsequently turned out to be a bad decision and a failure, I imagine that I would have been shown the door quite swiftly.

My gamble paid off, and now things have progressed on the project many times more quickly than if we were hamstrung with the limitations of the old system, plus I feel very proud and motivated by my sense of ownership; my contribution to the beating heart of the project.

Of course, it's not my circus; not my monkeys. I will need to step away from everything in a couple of months. In the blink of an eye I will leave the organisation - services no longer required.

It's Friday and it's been a very intense week at work. I've produced a lot. I have been multitasking and context-switching an incredible amount. It's been exhausting but it's been rewarding.

Switching out of "work mode" and into weekend relaxation mode is a little difficult. Switching off is hard. I was tempted to work late, but I knew that would be unhealthy. Slow and steady wins the race, I try to tell myself.

So, I'm spending my weekend trying to decompress.

 

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Thwarted

3 min read

This is a story about middle men...

Train toilet

I was out schmoozing the client, celebrating a job well done; an almost but not-quite completed project and successful delivery. I was out doing what I do day in and day out, which is to keep my game head on and to be laser-guided towards the goal, for my client.

My client is a middle man, so I suppose I am not really client-centric, but if I please the end client then my client must surely be pleased, because if their client is happy then their contractual obligations are being fulfilled and they are likely to get repeat business. What's good for the end client - who I spend 40 hours a week with - is ultimately good for my client, who subcontracts their work to me.

I get the impression that I am being thwarted.

My extensive experience in my industry tells me that I'm being screwed over.

My intuition tells me that I am about to be shafted.

In short, I have busted my balls to get a particular project back on track, and to keep the whole team working at a high level of productivity in order to meet some ambitious deadlines. As the deadline looms and confidence mounts that we are going to deliver on time, I always seem to get screwed. If I allow things to slip and projects to struggle, then of course my services are retained, because it is more clear that I'm an essential member of the team, but if I help things to succeed and go well, then the part I play is undervalued and f**king idiots try to rip me off; to screw me over. That's what's happening at the moment.

You'd have thought that the reward for playing a pivotal role in making an important project into a big success, would be to be treated as somewhat indispensable; to be valued. In fact, the opposite is true - the better a project is run, and the more successful you are at making things look easy, then the less you will be valued, to the point of being valued lower than those people who would flounder and screw everything up.

I feel quite certain that all my hard work will be for naught, and that I will get neither the satisfaction of seeing the result of all my hard work reach its fruition, nor seeing any reward for my hard work in terms of being treated with the respect I deserve. I feel quite certain that pen-pushing spreadsheet monkeys have gotten over-confident, and have decided to screw me over.

I feel pretty p1ssed off.

 

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I Love My Job

5 min read

This is a story about inconsistency...

Apple Mac

I often forget that I have a mood disorder - bipolar - because I'm pretty functional and unimpaired, but clearly I'm not neurotypical. Depression seems to my 'usual' day to day mood, or perhaps it just feels like that because depression seems to last interminably long and can't go away soon enough, but hypomanic episodes are all too infrequent and very welcome.

My hypomania has, as usual, produced some useful results, in that I've been able to make fantastic progress at work on the project I've been involved with.

I was feeling disheartened about how much mess had been made and how the 'purity' had been lost of the wonderful system that I had a major hand in shaping, leaving things less-than-perfect. Then, I spent ages hacking away trying to make things better and tidying everything up, and I'm happy again; I feel like I can be really proud of my work.

Why anyone should expect me to feel consistent about things is dubious, given my mood disorder. Of course I'm going to say "I hate my job" on one day and "I love my job" on another. I wonder if the same can be said for my feelings towards life. I definitely have suicidal thoughts on a very regular basis, but it really wasn't very long ago that I had the holiday of a lifetime, which really was amazing, and I have some great things in my life like my girlfriend and my kitten, plus some great friends and a generally pretty enviable lifestyle... although of course I'm working hard and taking some pretty grim jobs in order to pay for that lifestyle.

I can decide whether I love or loathe creating software. When I wrote some iPhone apps, I never ever wanted to touch the code ever again once they were released. I was not at all proud of my code and it was quite arduous making those apps. In fact, I really got to scratch the coding itch that summer, writing code for 16 to 18 hours a day.

I think creating software can be a mood rollercoaster. Sometimes it's difficult and sometimes it's easy. When it's difficult, it can be really difficult and it can feel like a problem is impossible, but anyone who's a good software engineer will persevere and overcome horrible technical obstacles. When you solve a really hard problem, it's a major triumph, but it's emotionally taxing to have that range of mood fluctuation as an integral part of your day job. Many software developers will retreat into their comfort zone, only doing things in ways that they're familiar with; refusing to work with unfamiliar technologies, where they'll suffer the misery of technical obstacles all over again.

I'm not sure whether I love or loathe overcoming technical challenges. I love it when I succeed but I hate it when I feel like I'm not succeeding; that I've finally met my match with a particularly nasty problem.

In the organisation where I currently work, it seemed like the system I was working on was incomprehensibly huge and that the problems were so deeply embedded in the very fabric of what'd been built, that I could do little more than nurse the thing along and make very minor improvements. However, I started to become more bold and ambitious about making changes, until eventually one day I decided to rewrite it all. Everything works like I thought it would, and things are incomparably better than they were when I joined, but maybe I'm biased. I do have hard numbers to back my claims that things are better... things that were taking days take a matter of minutes now.

I always worry that I'm repeating past mistakes, where I've become full of myself and convinced that I'm a major driving force in delivering a major project for a massive organisation. Perhaps I am a major driving force, but things have not always ended well for me when I've allowed my hypomania to run riot. I need to learn those lessons of the past and not allow myself to become excessively tired, where my hypomania turns into outright mania and I start acting strangely.

Hopefully the reality I perceive is not too different from how other people see things. Hopefully I'm not suffering too badly with delusions of grandeur. There seems to be plenty of evidence that I'm doing a good job and I'm well respected, and that my contribution is valued. There seems to be plenty of corroborating evidence to support my claim that I've made a major contribution to the project and can feel proud about that.

I'm really hoping I get to stick around and see things through to completion. There's fairly significant stuff going on in October, and I really want to be part of that, seeing the stuff I've worked hard on getting used in anger. Sure, I'm over-invested and taking things too personally, but I also want to have been part of something to feel really proud about.

 

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Something to Live For

6 min read

This is a story about becoming obsessed...

Monitor

Everywhere I've ever worked has talked about the glorious day when all the IT people will be sacked. Everywhere I've ever worked has been obsessed with the idea that one day, everbody can be made redundant. Everywhere I've ever worked has always been saying "soon we'll be able to get rid of those dratted IT people".

What's actually happened is that everywhere I've ever worked has become a technology company. What is a bank except for a database of bank balances and transactions? What is an insurance company except a database of policies and claims? What is any company, except for its data and its systems? When you examine most companies in the service sector, it turns out that there is no business... just software and data. Even a retail company with warehouses and stock is mostly a software company: just look at Amazon, which is mostly a technology company, not a retailler.

The organisation I currently work for talks endlessly about the glorious day when they'll be able to sack all the contractors and consultants. Indeed, the organisation made a decent attempt at actually getting rid of one of their main suppliers, to usher in the glorious and much vaunted IT-free future, which has been long promised.

I'm rather torn about whether to assist in the job of making myself redundant. There's considerable financial incentive to do a shoddy job and fail to deliver my project on time. There are negative consequences for the organisation I'm working for if their project isn't delivered, but there are positive consequences for me if things aren't finished by the deadline, because it means that my contract will probably be extended. You'd think they'd pay me for delivering a completed high-quality end product, but instead I'm payed by the hour, so of course there's no incentive to go quickly.

I can't stand being bored. It's never been my style to take my time and make a small amount of work last a long time. I'm not a person who believes it's a good idea to deliberately go slow. I'm not a person who believes it's ethical to make myself indispensable; a key-man dependency.

So, I am in a strange situation in my day job. I might end up accidentally finishing the project in time for the deadline, and delivering something that's high quality and easy to hand over; easy to maintain and support. That would potentially be disastrous for me, financially. Why bother to keep me around if I've delivered a neat-and-tidy, easy-to-use and well designed system, which is reliable and mostly bug-free? Surely I'm playing straight into the hands of those people who believe that one day all the IT work will be finished and all the IT people can be sacked?

I find it very frustrating working at snail's pace and looking busy, making a piece of work last longer than it actually should take to do. I find it very frustrating when I see shoddy workmanship and impenetrable unmaintainable and badly designed crap. I like being busy. I like delivering high quality systems. I like delivering finished projects on time.

I'm fairly obsessed with my day job and my project, because it seems like a simple way to achieve some progress in life. On paper, I'm highly qualified and experienced to do what I'm doing, so therefore there should be no reason why I wouldn't be able to keep working until the project completion date, and able to bank all the money that I'm potentially able to earn. On paper, it's a straightforward exchange of my labour for the project deliverables, and therefore I should be left unmolested to get on and do my job.

In reality, it seems that nobody really wants the project to succeed, me to earn my money or be able to achieve any of what's clearly possible to come to fruition. On paper the project can succeed, I can earn my money and the money helps me to achieve financial security, but in practice the project will fail, I don't earn my money and I don't have the means to pay rent and bills - this seems to be the desire of the decision-makers, who really don't want to see competent and capable people delivering successful projects.

I've come to expect defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory in the final hour; far too often I've be scuppered and thwarted when all that needed to happen was for me to be left alone, unmolested, and for the inevitable success to be allowed to happen. I'm very torn about whether I should employ more cynical tactics for my own economic gain, as I'm incentivised to do, which would be detrimental to the project, because it would essentially mean a far lower quality end product, which seems like a huge shame.

How have we reached this situation where we're so disincentivised to work hard and do a good job? How have we reached this situation where f**kwits and lazy idiots are rewarded, while anybody who's capable and competent is thwarted?

I remembered some times in my life when I had other interests, outside the workplace, and those were happier and more healthy times. I know that it's not good to be obsessed and single-minded. I know that I'm generally a more easy-going and laid-back person when I don't take things personally, but I really need this right now. Of course I'll find a way round the obstacles if I'm thwarted, but it's frustrating, especially when I've busted my balls.

I was really devastated when I thought I might not get to see my project through to completion. Now I'm a bit more "meh" about it, but I still have little going on in my life except for work at the moment. I also really need things to go as planned so that my financial planning isn't completely ruined.

Anyway, work work work. Work very much on my mind this week.

 

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Time Poor Cash Poor

6 min read

This is a story about digging yourself out of a hole...

Coins

Why don't people realise the futility of situations? Why does nobody do the basic arithmetic to see that a situation is hopeless? Why can nobody see their hopes and dreams slipping away?

I was watching a documentary recently about people who are working but still struggling to make ends meet. I cannot claim that I myself am in that situation, but that's because I work doing something which is thoroughly incompatible with my mental health, which very few people could stand to do. There are not long queues of people wanting to do what I do, because it's awful, but it is very well paid. So, I'm not struggling while I'm working - doing something I hate - but I wanted to write about the reality of existence, for those who want to do something which doesn't make them unhappy and unwell.

Unfortunately, compromises have to be made.

If you want to be an artist, a photographer, a travel blogger, a social media person or do some other unnecessary BS job, or to generally d1ck around in academia, not really producing anything useful, then you will have a fulfilling time at work but you're not going to be very well paid.

It seems as if there are a whole heap of other jobs out there which are also not very well paid. Pretty much whatever you do, you will be paid badly, unless you're involved in something unethical, like banking, insurance, accounting, drug dealing, human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, racketeering, extortion, fraud and other forms of profiteering from human misery, such as being a landlord or other leech/parasite.

If you want to buy a house and escape some of the coercion which forces us into dreadful jobs - lining the pockets of the capitalists - then you first have to go and get a dreadful job and work hard for many years, doing something unethical and unpleasant, making yourself sick. There is no way to both do something you love AND escape the clutches of capitalism.

On the aforementioned documentary were some folks approaching retirement age who were living in rented accommodation and had no pension to speak of. This was as a direct consequence of choosing to enjoy their lives and not sell their souls, to work doing dreadful bullshit jobs. Upon reaching retirement age, there was one gentleman who was having to drive an Uber for many many hours a week, simply to pay rent and bills. There was literally no hope of these people ever escaping old age poverty, especially when health problems eventually left them unable to work.

Unfortunately, only people with rich parents get to d1ck around studying something interesting and then finding a job in a related field, or being eternal students, mucking about in the safe and secure world of academia reserved for spoiled brats. Unfortunately, unless you've got family wealth behind you, you'll have to get a sh1tty job and even then, it won't get you anywhere unless it's really sh1tty.

What do we really want? We'd like to retire early. We'd like to retire with a decent income. We'd like to have a good standard of living up until the point we retire.

We do we really get? Paying rent and bills which eat up all our incomes, no holidays and no hope of ever buying a house, followed by no hope of ever retiring. All we have to look forward to is watching climate change wreck the Earth, while the world descends into anarchy and chaos because there isn't enough money to pay pensions or look after the vast number of old people who want to receive greater benefits than their contribution. The demographic bulge will sink our civilisation, as gazillions of baby boomers all demand an amazing standard of idle luxury living which they don't deserve.

We are time poor and cash poor, with no hope of hard work ever paying off - our hopes of owning property and having a valuable pension fund are ludicrous, even if we slave away to the age of 70 or more.

The only hope is to suffer the misery of dreadful miserable jobs for horrible unethical companies, doing horrible unethical things. The only way that the numbers add up is if we work for banks and suchlike, destroying the global economy and destroying the environment in the name of greedy profit. However, is this really a good approach when it means that there'll be no planet left to enjoy by the time we retire?

Who has the time to stop and think about such things?

There was a quote from that documentary which I thought was apt:

“The only way I am able to cope with the future is by not thinking about it. If I thought about it I would just give up”

Pretty gloomy and negative, but also pretty positive of that person to avoid thinking about stuff, so that they didn't give up. Why not give up? Why not grasp the nettle? Why not face the unpalatable truth: that all our efforts are doomed. Why bother working so damn hard when it's not going to result in being able to feel secure in your home and secure in your old age?

It strikes me that we live lives of incredible desperation and anxiety, where we work incredibly hard, commute horrible distances, pay vast amounts of our hard-earned cash in rent and bills and generally fail to get anywhere; we struggle for nothing. Why bother?

I read something else that said the only people who get to read many books are prisoners. Who else has the time?

It's a dismal situation to be in; this present time. You can do anything you want, so long as it involves spreadsheets for some multinational corporation which is intent on destroying the planet, extracting every last drop of sweat from their stressed-out workforce and leaving them stressed, anxious and depressed, before dumping their used husks in a great pile of spent human bodies, like trash.

I am saving up my money in order to have a nervous breakdown.

 

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Hard to Count

8 min read

This is a story about beans...

Cray

IT projects routinely go over budget and fail to meet their deadlines. IT projects routinely fail spectacularly. The worst projects of all are government IT projects, which very often get cancelled, having failed to deliver any value at all.

Anyway, on an unrelated matter...

IT projects that I work on are a bit different. I like to deliver things; I don't just want to work and not worry about whether anything useful is getting done; I'm not happy to let projects fail. It'd be easy to get carried away with my own ego and delusions of grandeur, but I make a difference to whatever organisation I work for, on whatever projects I work on.

Sometimes I get the sense that I've over-estimated the value of my contribution. Sometimes I feel like maybe I'm the tiniest of tiny cogs, and my contribution is negligible. Perhaps it's a co-incidence that I can get big complex IT projects over the line, when more usually they waste a heap of money and then fail. Perhaps I'm getting carried away with mania, which is deluding me into thinking that I do anything useful at all.

A colleague of mine repeatedly says that it's easy to create a great piece of complex software if you're the only person who designs and builds it, but I think he's wrong. Sure, I really don't think it's a good idea to have 100 people working on a piece of software that could - and should - be written by just one person, however, a lot more can be achieved by a small high-performing team than a single individual.

A commonly recurring theme with my bipolar disorder has been episodes of irritability, impatience and general intolerance for asshats in the workplace. Quite regularly, when tight deadlines loom and I'm feeling exhausted, my desire to work with "dead wood" people who make things worse, not better, reaches its limit and I really want the 'team' members who are slowing everything down to butt out, back off, step back and watch the professionals at work.

What about this 'team' stuff then? Am I even a team player?

I refer you back to what I said about small high-performing teams. In order for a project to deliver a high quality end product on or before the deadline, it's often necessary to have fewer people, not more. It's the bane of my life, having dead wood in the team. I'm absolutely a team player... I just don't want the dead wood around the place, messing things up and slowing everything down.

I should qualify: I'm fine with team members who are there to listen and learn; I'm fine with people who are developing their skills; I'm fine with people who are quite junior and in the early stages of their career. If you've been doing software development for decades and you're rubbish at it, then no, I really don't want you in my team. One thing that particularly irks me is very highly paid consultants who are rubbish at software development. If you're slow and dreadful at your job, despite being massively overpaid, stay the f**k out of my way and don't slow my projects down.

Is it so hard to hire good people? Is it so hard to identify the underperformers, especially when their output is out of alignment with their remuneration? Surely it's a simple cost:benefit analysis, where some individuals are nowhere near worth the money, and in my opinion are actively damaging to both projects and morale.

I wonder how much better things would be in the workplace if highly paid consultants who aren't worth the money were booted out, and the projects were delivered by underpaid graduates who are little superstars, producing huge amounts for very little cost. Actually, I know the answer because I've worked on those teams - with the right guidance, the graduates will deliver every single time.

The lack of meritocracy and the ageism in the working world is particularly galling in the IT industry, where archaic knowledge and experience has zero value. Perhaps my young graduate colleagues might benefit from a little senior leadership and a good architect, but whatever mistakes they might make are irrelevant because they're so damn quick. It's criminal that an overpaid and underperforming consultant might earn 5 or 6 times more than a bright and productive quick-witted graduate; graduates proven to be 5 times more productive.

Why do I learn so much from my graduate colleagues, but so little from overpaid consultants? I have learned lots of quicker, more efficient and more modern ways of doing things, when my older colleagues are just doing the same dumb s**t that they've done for years. Sure, it's been uncomfortable to have to re-learn vast swathes of stuff, but the benefits are obvious, having bitten the bullet and decided to take my younger colleagues seriously; to treat them with the respect they deserve.

What about respect in general for my colleagues? I respect my colleagues who have decided to take permanent jobs and be underpaid. I respect my colleagues who've chosen to avoid the cut-throat and stressful world of the job market, and instead opt for long careers with a single organisation. I respect that there are different life choices and needs, that some people need job security, and that very few of us had the opportunity to learn IT skills as a child, to the point of those skills becoming innate and instinctive. I respect that it's a very good idea to hire highly paid consultants, in order to upskill your permanent members of staff. It's part of my job, to train, coach and mentor my colleagues who are permanent employees of the organisations I work for. It's part of my job to be patient with the permanent staff members and to help them reach their full potential.

I spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm just telling people what to do, and whether I should take a more pre-considered approach where I allow my colleagues to think for themselves, rather than just being typists while I dicate instructions. Is there any value in me instructing somebody to do something I could do myself in a fraction of the time? Should I just race ahead, and then spend time explaining what I did and why, once the deadline is safely dealt with? Would it be better to simply let my colleagues watch me work? I know that it's very hard to think for yourself if somebody is telling you what to do, and that if I was doing people management I would avoid any micromangement like the plague, because it discourages independent thought, learning and initiative-taking. I know that the kind of people I want to work with are ones who can work independently and solve problems for themselves, but I work in an unusual situation where there are tight deadlines, but I'm also expected to train my colleagues to be self-sufficient to some extent, which is impossible in the timescales.

Explaining to management that more people does not equate to more productivity, and that the deadlines are not realistic to be able to get all the work done AND do all the training and handover that's necessary to make me completely redundant, is an impossible task. I'm eternally plagued by the mistaken notion that one day, there won't be any more need for IT professionals because all the IT work will be finished and the IT people will all be redundant - this has proven to be the most ridiculous nonsense, but an enduring fantasy of f**wits in every organisation.

I should qualify that I really like my colleagues, although I'm a bit frustrated with one or two very highly paid consultants who aren't worth the money. I should qualify that I really like the organisation I'm currently working for. I should qualify that I really like the project. It's all interesting and people are nice and even the management are pretty good, which is rare. There's not much pressure and the deadlines are not realistic, but they're achievable, which is usually a miracle for an IT project, especially in the sector I'm working in. I have no real complaints or criticisms of any colleagues or the organisation and its management team, not that this would be the place to air those grievances, of course.

I write a little tongue-in-cheek, because I know that colleagues from two different parts of the UK are reading this from time to time, and I wonder what they will think if they happen to read this particular post. I cringe of course at my arrogance and my delusions of grandeur, but I also struggle to know whether I'm making a significant contribution, or whether I'm just a tiny insignificant cog in an incomprehensibly huge machine, so I'm prepared to poke the bear a little.

 

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I Don't Think You Realise How Tired I Am

4 min read

This is a story about working...

Power nap

I work hard for long periods of time - very hard - and then I need a holiday. I don't mean sightseeing. I don't mean wandering round crowded cities. I don't mean rushing from place to place, catching planes, trains and automobiles. I don't mean having a packed itinerary of non-stop horse-riding, hiking, learning how to make stuff, guided excursions to sites of historical and cultural interest. What I mean is a holiday.

I work very hard and I get very tired.

It's very tiring working very hard.

If you do not work very hard, then you are not very tired, and you have plenty of energy to go off doing city breaks and travelling around, never staying more than one or two nights in any one place, taking local busses, doing lots of short internal flights. If you do not work very hard then you will have lots of energy to have a very complex itinerary and go off spending lots of money doing lots of things.

I work hard.

I get tired.

I need a holiday.

I cann't stress this enough: I AM VERY TIRED AND I NEED A HOLIDAY.

This is what a holiday is: go somewhere with nice weather, stay there, relax.

There. That's a holiday. A holiday is something you do so that when you go back to work you're less tired than when you started. I need a holiday. Is that clear?

Over the Christmas and New Year festive season, I did manage to lie on a beach lounger getting a nice tan and having drinks and snacks brought to me by a waiter. I did manage to relax. The weather was vastly better than it was in the UK and I was able to stay in the one place - no planes, trains, automobiles, busses, coaches, trams, timetables, itineraries, hassle, faff, stress, exhaustion - and I was able to go to the beach every day and enjoy the sun, sea and the sand.

It's been more than 6 months.

I'm exhausted.

I need a holiday.

I'm tired so I need a holiday. I do not need a complex multi-stop itinerary cultural activity tour with a thousand and one things to travel between, as some kind of non-stop torture for somebody who just needs to relax. That's not a holiday.

If I had tens of thousands of pounds and months and months without any rent or bills to pay, I could quite happily squander those tens of thousands of pounds ambling around doing activities, but I don't have that luxury. I work. I work very hard.

I don't get to sleep. I don't get to rest. I just work. I work really really hard. I cannot stress enough how tired I am.

I am tired.

Do you get this?

The solution to my tiredness is a holiday.

This is how I organise my life: I work hard and then I take a holiday.

That's how my life works: I use up my energy working very hard, and then I take a holiday to replenish my energy.

My energy is depleted - dangerously so - and I desperately need a holiday.

It's really quite simple when you understand these simple facts: I work; I work very hard; I work for very long periods without a holiday; I work on the basis that I will take a holiday when I need one, to recharge my batteries. My life does not and cannot function without the holidays which punctuate the periods of intense hard work. You cannot imagine how hard I work. You cannot imagine how tired I am.

I do not think you realise how tired I am.

 

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Adjustment Disorder

7 min read

This is a story about provocation...

Pathway

I suppose the reason why my episodes of mania synchronise perfectly with periods of high stress and exhaustion, is some kind of defence mechanism - perhaps an evolutionary adaptation; something deliberately left in my genes, because it's served a useful purpose during unsettled times throughout the history of humanity.

It's problematic for me to work in an open-plan office at the moment. It's problematic for me to be surrounded by so many mild-mannered and quiet individuals, who seem happy to spend all day looking at their email inbox, waiting for something interesting to appear.

How my colleagues manage to cope in an environment that's pretty stale and ultra-conservative, I don't know. Big personalities and loudmouths are not the kinds of people who become long-serving members of my organisation. In fact, a girl I dated from my office said she cried when she got her security pass, because its expiry date was 10 years in the future. "Nobody would choose to work here" she said.

It's not that bad.

I like it.

I'm just not so sure that everyone who's within earshot of me is my greatest fan. I have a foghorn-like voice in two situations: 1) when I'm scared and insecure, and 2) when I'm manic, like I am now.

I suppose I knew that mania was cropping up - rearing its ugly head - but it served a purpose. I needed to find a place to live and make all the necessary moving preparations. I needed to continue to work hard at my job, while also finding the extra energy and the motivation to do something I hate: Moving.

The mania has propelled me to move very fast, but it also causes my brain to speed up dangerously. A colleague told a joke about friction coefficients - a classical physics joke - and I said I could come up with a better one about quantum mechanics, in only a few seconds. According to my colleague, it took me no more than 15 seconds to invent a "XXX walks into a bar..." type joke, which was actually pretty good considering I thought of it on the spot AND it involved two really fundamental things about quantum mechanics. Nothing to do with Schrödinger and his cats, but actually to do with Planck and his constant... but I digress... both jokes have a very small audience who'd appreciate them.

I'm fizzing and crackling with so much energy at the moment that I'm physically uncomfortable to be around. I think I'm literally giving people near me headaches.

One of the first things I said this morning was "do chairs really exist?" which was supposed to be funny, but my colleagues reaction was to tell me it was too early to start talking about philosophy.

I didn't get to sleep until 3:30am or maybe even 4am.

Does the lack of sleep cause the mania, or is the insomnia a symptom of the mania? It's impossible to know.

It's not like I couldn't sleep, but I can't see how else I can fit everything into the 24 hours of the day, without some late nights. I know that I need regular bedtimes. I know I need lots of sleep. But, there's so much to do.

The busier I am, the more productive I am, strangely. Today I did all kinds of horrible jobs that I wasn't looking forward to, like buying a washing machine, booking a van to move my stuff, arranging to have broadband internet installed, arranging to have my post redirected and a zillion other admin jobs, but I also managed to do a piece of work that I'd been putting off for days and days.

Where I'm finding the energy from to maintain my daily writing, as well as the development of NickBot™ and the migration of my website from one hosting provider to another, I have no idea, considering that I also have a demanding full-time job and I waste at least 50% of my time saying stupid things out loud and distracting people.

I guess I was wasting a lot of time and energy on a bad relationship, so escaping that has released me from a lot of pointlessly exhausting nonsense. I was very trapped. I was very miserable.

I'm very stressed now and I felt momentarily like I was very alone, but perhaps that's what prompted me into a frenzy of activity, sending out lots of messages to people I care about, trying to surround myself with people who care about me. There's a horrible period of stress approaching rapidly - moving day, and subsequent days - but I'm pretty well prepared for it, which I'm surprised about, because I can often become too overwhelmed by anxiety to even leave my bed. I'm surprised that depression hasn't laid me low.

All of my psychiatric problems can be considered acute: i.e. they have been spontaneously provoked into existence by the extreme set of life circumstances that I'm simultaneously dealing with. This is adjustment disorder which is just another way of saying "your life is hell right now" and that quite rightly, my brain and body are compensating for the extreme demands placed upon me.

I'm pretty terrified right now, of screwing up the good relationship I have with my colleagues and my workplace. People have been patient with me, but that patience is wearing thin. It's unusual for a manic episode to last so long, but I've managed to keep myself sustained for periods of 6, 8 and even 13 weeks before... but it always led to a horrible crash. There have always been disastrous consequences for allowing too much of my mania to overspill into the open-plan offices which I work in.

I try to rein myself in. I try to put my headphones in and keep my head down. But, then somebody wants to ask me something. Then I overhear something and my red-hot brain which is travelling at a million miles an hour immediately sparks off and I'm talking - interjecting - with something which I think is profound, but nobody can keep up with me... I'm just acting a bit weird and annoying, from the point of view of my colleagues.

I'm working from home for a couple of days. I'm going to try to pace myself and remind myself that I've got a nice long overlap of my tenancies, so I don't have to move everything all at once. If I forget anything, I can always make more trips. There's no need for me to put so much pressure on myself.

I'm pushing hard in every area of my life, simultaneously. I want my colleagues to think I'm a brilliant genius who can do anything. I want my perfect house, fully furnished and looking beautiful. I want to feel instantly at home in a city which I've barely visited. I want my side project - this website - to make a giant leap forward, in terms of technology.

It's too much, and there will be a price to be paid.

I need to be super careful.

I can't afford to lose my job, for example.

I can't afford to lose anything, in fact.

Everything teeters dangerously on a cliff edge.

But, I've kind of gotten used to living on the edge.

If nothing else, at least this period is quite life-affirming and I'm coping remarkably well. Even when I got in trouble with the big boss the other day, I managed to rescue things very rapidly and get back on good terms. Even when I wasted days and days procrastinating, I caught up very rapidly. Even when I felt that there was too much to do in too little time, to move house without dying of stress and anxiety, everything seems to be falling into place.

I've written twice as much as I meant to, of course, because I can't quite rein myself in; I can't quite pump the brakes and slow myself down.

So long as I keep doing what my colleagues are doing, which is mostly killing time looking busy, then I'll probably get through this difficult period without doing too much damage. Less is more.

 

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The Banality of Existence

4 min read

This is a story about the less glamorous jobs...

Car tyre

Some very simple things in my life are surprisingly difficult to organise and cause a great deal of anxiety. The accumulation of things which most people would consider trivial, is a consequence of a phase of my life which I should not probably be living through.

Those who have stuck together with their peer group, going through school, further education, higher eduction, university and forays into academic realms beyond, have had a well-trodden path to follow, which has made it extremely easy to go along with the herd.

Society corrals us through life, into jobs, relationships, and the process of "settling" somewhere. We become attached to a place, either because it's where close family live, where we spent the bulk of our time studying, or perhaps because it was where we spent the bulk of our career.

The weight of expectation placed upon us by our families, friends and the media, pushes us towards marriage and children.

We're carried along by a rapidly flowing river, with the currents too strong for us to swim against. The bulk of our destiny is inevitable, not free will or choice, like we would like to believe.

My car needs servicing, I need a haircut, I need a new belt, there is administrative paperwork which must be submitted to a government agency, there are numerous annual insurance policies which require renewal. I am continually harried and harassed for my time and money, by an unending queue of people who won't leave me in peace.

I try to comply with the demands of so-called 'normal' society but I find that there are gatekeepers everywhere, intent on frustrating me, delaying me, or thwarting me altogether.

I attempt to do my job to the best of my abilities, and I feel guilty about doing non-work tasks during my working day. I attempt to invest time each day in relationships outside my workplace: friends and family. Once commuting time, meal preparation time, housework time, washing time, hygiene time and all the other mandatory deductions from my leisure time have been made, there are then the other tasks: The letters to open, which no doubt demand money with menaces, or require me to fill in some ridiculous form and mail it, so that a bureaucrat somewhere can justify their job.

My photo album contains a depressing number of photographs which are not of pleasant things I've observed, but do in fact contain details I need for the operation of a fairly simple and humble life. The picture above is of one of my tyres, so that I could find a place to fit my car with the correct ones.

My photo album contains numerous pictures of my passport, driving license, bank statements, utility bills, council tax bills and other official documents, which are regularly demanded as proof of my identity. I spend my life perpetually proving that I exist and satisfying other demands of gatekeepers, who would prefer to see me homeless, penniless and destitute.

I suppose I'm not alone in this farcical existence, but it gives me little comfort to know that many of us - those who don't have the security of a permanent job and the ownership of our home - are constantly asked to jump through so many hoops.

My perceptions might be warped, but I feel like I'm more time poor than ever, which isn't supposed to be the case for a childless man who has been working a full-time career for over two decades.

I'll stop moaning now and get back to my administrative tasks.

 

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