The Coming Warmth Of Death’s Grip

Do you do the job you expected to do? Like, when you were growing up, did you expect to have the job title you have now?

***This only applies to people with jobs right now: if you’re not yet in the world of work, enjoy; if you’re between jobs, you’ll understand this all too well; if you’re retired, well done: you have won the game; prepare for the coming warmth of death’s grip.***

The only people I know, or have met, who are doing the jobs they dreamed of are the professionals, and they are tremendously boring. Doctors, lawyers and the like: tedious beyond words. Teachers are fine, but my experience shows a 50:50 split between the ones who were always on that path and the ones who fell in to it after realising that the world was just one god-awful hell hole after another.

Before you ask, I’m not saying “Those who can’t, teach” – that’s a huge insult to a profession I can’t not admire. I know I couldn’t teach, so where does that leave me? I can’t even help my daughter read a book without screaming at her: teaching would not be for me. For actual, real, human beings – with a soul and everything – teaching is the one thing everyone should derive absolute joy from.

Looking at spreadsheets and answering emails, on the other hand are soul-crushingly boring, and anyone starting their careers today in a modern office, and looking at the tasks in front of them would do well not to scream and tear out their own spleens in utter terror. Yes, you have to do this for the next forty years, unless the incoming robot overlords render you utterly meaningless in your own life. And that is the best case scenario in all of this. The worst is what you are currently doing.

Straight down the middle of those terrifying outcomes would be the march forward of technology, and the gradual alteration of the workplace in to a cybernetic playground with holographic panels and special interfaces. That could be an augmented reality debtors’ prison and you’d never know.

But what I was asking was whether you are doing the job you thought you’d be doing? Be that when you were a child, or when you were choosing your options at school, or during one of the different versions of post school you may or may not have fallen in to. What did you dream of? We dream of successes and triumph, not merely coasting along, hoping not to be outed as true incompetents.

I went to university. I was asked many times what I wanted to do when I graduated, and I had no earthly fucking clue. I wanted to be happy, and for many years I missed that rather spectacularly. I could easily have become the poster boy for the terrorist wing of the – then non-existent – Incel movement, but I couldn’t be bothered with all of the talking to other people side of self-delusion.

We may make plans, but we fall in to opportunities. In my graduate days I applied for absolutely anything which I deemed to be worthy of my talents. There was a lot of admin, a lot of analysis, and not a lot of success. I worked as a tax clerk, and quit. I worked in local government and my contract came to an end. I worked as a market researcher and stayed. It’s still what I do with my days.

That’s the case for a lot of the people I know: there was an opening, so they tried to get in. They got comfortable with the money they were making, so they just continued. It wasn’t that bad, it even looked from the outside like a chosen career path. In actual fact they were just someone who worked for a living. Question it too hard and the whole edifice comes crumbling down around you.

I dreamt of being a spy, or a writer or a rock star. I applied to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ more times than I care to remember, and I am slightly glad that they didn’t let me in. I have no musical talent, no matter how many books I bought and didn’t read. I discovered that all you need to do to write is to start writing and never stop. I’m not successful, but I am still doing it, as you can see in front of you.

It seems to be relatively prevalent these days that changing careers is open to you. That’s never been the way I have viewed the world of work, but I am happy that such doors are open. I know a number of people who have changed tack and become teachers, crafters or carpenters, after their previous, less than planned, career hadn’t panned out as well as they had never actually expected.

Thinking that there are ascribed career paths is unhelpful: how many people do you know who have spent decades training in a profession only to find that they hate it when they get there, and would rather enter MasterChef, or build you a chest of drawers? How many very happy people essentially fall in to their dream jobs by virtue of going with whatever flow took them down an unseen path?

If I had known when I was growing up what I know today, what would I have changed? Well, I would not have been so socially awkward, and I would have verbally assaulted a great number of people around me at school – friends and teachers alike – but I’m not sure I would’ve done much different.

Yes, I know that a great deal of success can come to people who are natively literate in the ways which computers work, in the way computers can be made to do things, and in the way systems communicate, but I don’t think I have the mental temperament for such a career. Just not me.

I would have read more, but would that have meant watching less TV and fewer films? These are the storytelling forms which seem to resonate most with me, regardless of prestige. The structures of plays are more appealing to me than the heft of a 1,000 page novel. I still should read far more.

I think I would have believed in my aptitudes more: I have the ability to knuckle down and keep on going in terrible situations, and come out smiling. Not happy per se, but smiling. That’s a key skill, and one which I developed early. It may even be my most saleable quality; more so than typing.

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