Friday, 13 May 2011

Application Fatigue

Benefits of applying for jobs:

1) You focus so hard on selling yourself that you start to convince even yourself of all your amazing qualities.
2) You spend so much time reading employers' bigged-up descriptions of the roles they offer that you are reminded of all teh things that attracted you to this career in the first place.
3) Your glorified descriptions of your own talents and strengths also serve as a reminder of all the reasons you wwere attracted to, and are suited to, this career.
4) you are reminded of how exciting it was to first enter into this career, and how excited and inspired you were in your first weeks in your last job. You have hope that you can feel that way again.

Disadvantages of applying for jobs:

1) When you are 41 years old, it takes FOREVER to list every single detail of your life for the last twenty years. Why do they insist on knowing so MUCH about you?
2) Every form is in a sligtly different format, so copy-and-paste won't do and you get really really bored of filling forms in.
3) Every application has to be tailored to the specific employer and workplace, then edited for space. This is stressful and time-consuming.
4) The formatting. Oh, the formatting.

I was so pleased with myself when I first started filling application forms in electronically. Finally, I could just copy and paste all those tedious names, addresses, dates and other details. I wouldn't have to spend hours writing cramped details in pen. But I'm pretty sure I spend longer filling the bloody things in on the computer than I would with pen and paper. No two application forms are alike. They have all been designed in Word using tables which won't stretch properly to fit what you want. The fonts are never right. You have to keep jiggling and juggling and rearranging and watching out for bits of bold, italic and other stuff which sneaks in when you're not looking. You have to keep repaginating so that info doesn't weirdly cross page boundaries. I have spent ALL DAY today on one sodding form! It's ridiculous!

[mucho sighing]

Still, I have now successfully completed and printed one job application. I'd hoped to get more done, but it's the job I want most of all out of the four I'm planning to apply for.

They're interviewing on Thursday next week! The closing date is Monday. I'm going to have to deliver it by hand. Wish me luck. [eek]

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Who I am

I am crying.

The thing which set me off was John le Mesurier's famous death announcement in the Times, which said simply, "John Le Mesurier wishes it to be known that he conked out on November 15th. He sadly misses his family and friends.". I got to this via a documentary about John le Mesurier's life, which I arrived at via a chain which started with the biograpahical drama "Hattie", about Ms Jacques. I recommend it, followed by a clip from Hattie's This is Your Life episode in 1963, then a programme about John le Mesurier, interspersed with Tony Hancock's Wikipedia page.

The three of them, along with Joan le Mesurier and Hattie's lover John Schofield, were amazing people, all connected via marriages and affairs, and their stories are fascinating. John le Mesurier and Hattie Jacques were people you wish could have been your auntie and uncle. Since I was a child I've been fond of John le Mesurier, who reminded me of my grandfather. They were a year apart in age, physically similar, and both had the same deep but understated humour, immense dignity and composure.

So, his death made me cry. Because it's sad. Because he reminds me of my also-conked-out grandfather... but for unrelated reasons too. I'm a compulsive armchair psychologist and can never take emotions at face value. I assume underlying reasons for all my outbursts, and today my own life is making me cry. It wasn't even subconscious - the catalyst was John le M, but the thoughts were about me.

I left work four weeks ago. I had a couple of weeks' grace while I hung around with my son on his easter hols, but since then I've been bumbling about, alternating between being productive and worrying about not getting enough done, until last night it dawned on me that I've been so effective in sorting my finances that I don't actually have to Get Stuff Done 24 hours a day. I could sit back and chill for a bit. I've earned it, and given an acceptance of poverty as my baseline, I can afford it. But that leaves room for the guilt, and the self-doubt...

For the last eighteen months I've been working my arse off to become qualified in my new career. 6 hours' sleep a night was luxury, and 3 hours wasn't unusual. Success or failure was in the hands of others, and I had to submit myself to assessments every few weeks - sometimes more frequent - in which I was (more recently) routinely judged to be lacking.

The bigger picture of my life over the last few years ran like this:

I had a job, well-paid, in a stable career. I wasn't brilliant at it, because I wasn't motivated to give my all to it, but I was pretty good and found it relatively easy, and above all it was a stable, reliable life. Even better, I could afford to drop to four days a week and use the extra time to write a novel. Then I had a baby. Pregnancy was horrific and I took a year off from the career as well as the novel-writing just to cope with the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth. But when my first son was still very young, I returned to work and returned to novel-writing, and not long after that, my first novel was published. So far, so good.

The novel didn't do brilliantly, but it was a small publisher and I was happy with it. But now I had a baby as well as a job and a writing career, and I was trying to write my second novel, and then my son started school and I fiddled with my job to start work stupid-early every morning just so that I could pick my son up from school, and the strain started to tell. But I was coping.

Then I decided I wanted another child. I had a miscarriage. I lost my job. I tried to be a full time writer, but quickly got pregnant again and ill again. My second novel was published, but only in a foreign language. My second son was born. I failed to earn any money from writing. It was all just a bit too difficult. So I retrained in a new career, and that's when the eighteen months of pressure and not enough sleep started.

And now here I am, in a sudden lull. Pleased to have escaped from my most recent job, but still not fully qualified. I've registered with an agency that will get me the odd bit of work in my new career. But it'll take a few weeks to sort out the paperwork. I don't know how long. They might have work for me next week. I need something to balance the books and pay the bills, and up to now I'd assumed I'd have to drop everything and run as soon as they find anything. Actually I can afford not to work every day, although probably not at first. The work itself will be demanding and unpredictable, but short term. I struggle to believe I can do it.

Ain't that a bitch? When the official judgement is that you're crap, but you know it was probably a biased judgement and based partly on external and unfair factors that are nothing to do with you. Independent witnesses reassure you that you are not as bad as they say, and your own knowledge confirms this. But what if those independent witnesses are just being kind? What if you are kidding yourself? Every time you tell people the details of your tale, they go "Awww" and "Grrr" and "Haven't you been treated badly?" and they tell you of other similar tales they have heard. Other people from the same workplace had similar treatment, and the sheer numbers are enough to suggest that something isn't right and you've had a raw deal. But...

In the back of your mind is always the knowledge that these sympathetic listeners have only heard your side of the story. That no matter what they say, at least some of them must be wondering. Maybe it was all perfectly reasonable and I am just a bit crap. It's embarrassing, humiliating, has made me question myself.

I'm 41, I have two children and a secure home, shouldn't I be at a point in my life where I have a stable career and some knowledge of the things I am good at? Shouldn't I know who I am? Isn't a bit late in life to be trying new things and, yet again, failing?

But I do know who I am. I am kind, and clever, and talented. I am, at least some of the time, capable and organised. I am a good mother. Sometimes I'm a little bit funny. I can sing.

The biggest thing I have to master is balance. Balance between hyperactivity and lethargy. Balance between productivity and leisure. Balance between preserving my mental health and securing some sort of income. Balance between accepting that I need, and have earnt, a rest... but that I'm happier when I'm active.

This all boils down to those small decisions and motivations, from one minute to the next. What should I do now? What can I persuade myself to do now? Am I surfing the net because I'm looking after myself and have earnt a rest, or because I'm avoiding doing some other thing which I not only need to do but would actually prefer to do, if only I could find the confidence and motivation?

Then there are the bigger questions. Have I really earnt a rest, or am I just terminally lazy and self-indulgent? What makes me think I deserve to have such an easy ride? Whoever said that happiness is even possible for anything other than brief fleeting moments? Isn't it just selfish and unrealistic to think that life should be comfortable, easy or enjoyable?

And there's the adrenalin hangover. I've become so used to being manically busy, I can't get used to not being. There's all this stuff that needs doing, and right now, otherwise I'll run out of time! I have to blast through the house and clear all those surfaces covered in piles of pushed-to-one-side crap! I have to do the gardening! I have to do my tax return! I have to apply for jobs, and organise all my career-related resources, and do reading and research and planning to make sure that when I return to my career I am Really Good At It and finally get qualified without any further failure! I have to get some exercise! I have to make time for family and friends! I have to be creative! I have to get out of the house! I have to avoid spending any money!

I enjoyed crying this morning. I am a crier, an inveterate spouter of tears, and a connoisseur. There are as many varieties of lachrymosity as there are of rain. After one of my recent job-related assessments, I locked myself in a toilet and sobbed. I couldn't stop. I had to do it silently because people were coming and going in the next cubicle, and I didn't want the humiliation of drenching my colleagues yet again in my hyper-emotional state. I can be very emotional and yet hardly make a squeak. My shoulders heaved and I couldn't breathe. I went through half a toilet roll. In the end I waited for a quiet moment and removed myself to a locked and darkened room in another corner of the workplace, because there were only two toilet cubicles and queues kept forming. I carried on sobbing for a while. It wasn't nice.

But this morning they were soft warm comforting tears. I practised the Buddhist loving kindness thing. I observed my emotional state, accepted it, let it happen. It needed to happen.

I don't know when the agency work might come in, or what kind of work it will be. I don't know what I should do, what I will be able to do, what I will want to do, from one day to the next. I've emerged from an immensely stressful period. Things are insecure. But I have ability, and I have time. I can say no to work. I can sort the garden out, sort the house out, sort myself out, and it doesn't have to be in a rush.

Maybe even, one day, I might know what the hell I am doing with my life. But really, does anyone?

I suspect not.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Small Things

Today I am feeling ever-so proud of myself because I have been through my finances with a fine-tooth comb and reduced every expense I could think of. This has meant an awful lot of faffing with broadband providers, gas and electric suppliers, mobile phone contracts etc. I have shopped around on ALL my monthly outgoings and saved myself a shocking amount of money. A veritable mountain of faffery - which is why I haven't got round to it before - but it feels good.

More generally, the heebie-jeebies are pecking me on my shoulder. Today I have kept them at bay with the above-mentioned faffery. I know all too well that if I don't get cracking first thing on my to-do list, I will just get more and more despondent - and less likely to get anything done - as the day wears on. I learnt this many years ago, but I still struggle to act on it. Still, today I did. So go-go me.

There are two big items on the list, though, which I have today avoided by focusing on the previously-referred-to faffishness. I can refrain from hitting myself with the big stick I use when I'm not being pecked by heebie-jeebies, because the faffing was Useful and Necessary, and is one in the eye for the heebie-jeebies, who are currently feeding in about equal parts on Financial Panic and Professional Insecurity.

But the other two big items will have to be tackled if I'm going to take away the Oh Shit I'm Rubbish At My Job fodder that those heebies so love to quaff. They are:
(1) Apply for jobs
(2) Prepare to be Good at any jobs which get chucked in my direction.

Sadly they are both the kind of tasks that, although they will help to alleviate professional insecurity, require me to have a certain amount of security if I'm going to tackle them in the first place.

For months I have whinged that what I really needed was some spare time, so that I could sit down and rationalise all the useful information and resources which I've acquired and ought to help me be better at my job, if only I could remember what I had and lay my hand on the relevant bits at a moment's notice. Now that I have that time, I'm too scared to use it effectively.

It's the same fear that prevents me from writing fiction when I lay time aside for that. What if I can't do it? The fear of failure stops me from doing it in the first place. What if my job applications are rubbish? What if my brain is too woolly and useless to be able to find the right resources, make sense of them or be able to put them in any kind of sensible order?

If only I did these jobs, I would feel better. I know that. So therefore I should do them. And I will! I'll just check out that car insurance comparison site...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful

Ha! I am having a nice time (she said triumphantly).

Good God, but ain't life a funny thing. I spent a good few months of my life losing an awful lot of sleep over the potential disaster that was Losing My Job, and now it's happened and it's the best thing to have befallen my sorry arse for a goodly length of time.

1) The sun is shining.

2) Yesterday I went to my grandparents' house to rescue some items before it is sold, and now my own home is full of things I have known since I was teeny-tiny, and I find them immensely comforting. Silly small things like a broken bear, a flour tin and some small cracked pink dessert bowls. And lovely bigger things like a wooden highchair I once sat in myself. I'd assumed this last would be purely decorative/sentimental, as my littlest stopped bothering with such things a year ago. But as soon as he spotted it, he wanted to eat his breakfast in it (he is still only two, although nearly three), and luckily he fits in it nicely. We ate breakfast together in the garden. Hurrah.

3) I am Getting Jobs Done, and they are all jobs I Enjoy Getting Done. Today I am mostly Dong My Accounts, which is something I have always found greatly satisfying. Yay.