Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I survived my job with pills

When I told people I had a job, instead of asking me what it is I was doing, they'd just say, "Wow!"

I try not to take this personally. Jobs and sunshine are rumoured to be on short supply in London. To the general population, any job is now considered a good one, so long as it pays.

That's not been my experience though. It's been relatively sunny and warm since I arrived, and I've been working as a Marketing/PR Assistant for exactly a month – exactly the same amount of time I've been letting this blog slide. I feel guilty, so please let me explain how I've allowed this to happen.

The short version involves me popping ibuprofen like Skittles and fighting the urge to lie down on the office floor in the fetal position. I beleieve, in the animal kingdom, that's called "learned helplessness". It's what impalas do when they're tired of running from the lions.

The long version involves me working for the most intense person I've ever encountered – even more intense than the Zapatista rebels in balaclavas who interviewed me to decide whether to allow me onto their reclaimed land in southern Mexico. Even more intense than the Cuban officials who interrogated me for two hours to determine whether I was a literary threat to the state, or a sun-seeking booze hound. And even more intense than my mother while she's cooking Christmas dinner.

Intense. And just as committed to the cause.

In this new job – my first real job in England – I worked for a life coach, a Cambridge-educated psychologist, a BBC reality TV presenter, an ex-Playstation advertising executive, a serial entrepreneur and a leader of a social innovation movement that's meant to change the world. Normally, working with a team like that would thrill me. But it wasn't a team. It was one guy. One guy, and I was his one assistant.

I was the 666th person to enquire about the job. Looking back, that may have been the first sign of what would come. My first day was the second sign. Following a 5-minute briefing in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, I was to memorise a list of tongue-twisted jargon I was quite sure no one would grasp, in the time it took to walk across London Bridge to our meeting. Thirty-six days in the country and I was about to mingle with mid-level MPs and quasi-celebrities at a televised Channel 4 event. Basically, flirting for funding. Every key word I remembered to use elicited a similar, "Sorry?"

That's when I realised I'd jumped – head first into London, and slightly more metaphorically off the London Bridge.

Since then, I've done everything from copy editing a motivational manual, hiring and firing suppliers, re-branding a product two weeks before its launch, writing copy for everything and acting as a sounding board about the trials of being a new husband, new father and entrepreneur. It's been a challenging experience, not because anything I've had to do was difficult, but rather because it was not humanly possible to meet deadlines tighter than American Apparel leggings. And it's hard to admit I'm human.

Working for a professional life coach means emotional sharing is part of the job description. He arranged the seating so that we faced each other all day long, never more than a metre apart, to allow a free flow of 'energies' between us. Energy, in plural. Toward the end, my 'energies' started getting so thick, you could cut them with a metaphysical knife.

As a coach, he expected his motivational tactics to help me accomplish more and more each day. Soon, 12-hour days weren't enough to keep up. So on occasion, I'd try to get a couple of hours in before heading to work for 9:00, where I'd remain until at least 6:30.

But that was just the first problem. My boss wasn't just a coach, he was a psychologist, which means I also began feeling like an office case study. Then, I began having to squish my 'energies' over to make more room for the elephant ego in the room, as is to be expected when working with a successful ex-ad exec. Because he is a serial entrepreneur, everything should've been done already, and exactly the way he's always done it. Every passing second is a second farther away from the deadline: yesterday. And more than that, working for a TV presenter requires grinning and bearing it all, and looking pretty no matter what.

He is a self-proclaimed leader of a social innovation movement, and as this experience just confirmed, I'm still not much of a follower.

So yesterday, I cleared my head of London's favourite past-time – the favourite after looking at page-3 boobs in public, discussing celebrities like they're close relations, emotionally investing in football, worrying about getting the last Tube home before midnight, and recycling tired jokes about Canadian English – and that's recession fear-mongering. I cleared my head, and I resigned.

"I think I'm gonna "peace out"," is precisely what I said.

As soon as I did, I knew it was the right decision. My 'energies' were pissing him off anyway. But I learned a lot during that intense second month in London, including a bit of wisdom from my now former boss, and I am going to "imagine beyond my imagination" what to do next.

Right now, that involves an icy cold beer in a sunny backyard in North London.

This is what the air traffic-heavy sky looks like every day in London, whether you can see it through the clouds or not. Quite often I remember what it felt like to land in Heathrow for the first time, wondering what might be ahead. The love part's going well. The job part? I could use a little help.


Jan @ Struck by Serendipity said...

Working for him seems like quite the experience! I'm glad you're back to experiencing better "energy." Enjoy the peacefulness.

UnBob said...

Did you resign in person? (Did you actually say you're gonna peace out?)

From what I know of you, while he may have made you feel unable to live up to his demands, he must have realized that nobody is gonna put the effort and perfection that you do. Did he try to convince you to give it another go? (Did you see me be all English there? "Give it another go, eh?" Good, huh?)

Kate Savage said...

Jan - Thanks! Yes, I enjoyed some icy cold liquid energy yesterday and watched a football match. That's what unemployed people do in London. Actually, that's what everyone does in London.

I'm looking forward to finding a really excellent, stimulating, lower-stress job now.

Just as soon as I get paid from this last one...

Unbob - Yes, I resigned in person. I went into work, and he started rapid-firing instructions at me. I interrupted, and said I was going to "peace out". First he was mean, and said he didn't think I was good enough to do the job anyway. So, I swallowed my rage and took the higher ground. By the end of the day he asked me if I'd be willing to freelance on a few projects. And I said, "Sure, but only if you actually give me time to actually DO it."He hugged me good-bye and asked to go for a coffee next week to discuss his business model and why he now thinks his is not the sort of business that "hires" people. It ended well, until I received an enraged email last night, looking to blame me for a shoddy design job that's going to cost him a few hundred pounds to reprint. That could have been avoided had all the suppliers not been rushed, and had he agreed to wait an extra day to see a hard-copy proof of the product. He didn't. So, thank the powers of email that I have proof that he'd confirmed the design with me. Now, I just have to prove that to him without pissing him off...until I get paid.

I. Can't. Wait. For. This. To. End.

Raven said...

Im so sorry the work part didnt turn out well. Its another life experience tho!
Glad to hear the love part is ;) Thats the part that really matters.

wyliekat said...

I wondered about that job. I used to work for a politician (on a very local scale) and I was his sole staffer.

Yeah - you basically just described my job, how I felt, and why I left.

UnBob said...

Dude's clearly got issues. But happily, by offering you freelance work, he confirmed that youse gots the chops to do anything.

We'll see if his next sucker-- er, employee manages to cut you the check he owes you.

Kate Savage said...

Raven - Thanks. It really does help to have someone at my side to tell me I'm not crazy.

wyliekat - Well, I guess it takes a certain kind of person to lead a political party, social reform movement or cult. The kind of person people like us will never work for again.

Unbob - Well, that was before he decided I was at fault for a mess up with the printers and sent me an email with CAPS and !!!! . Soooo, we'll see how soon I get paid, if at all. That said, I have my ass mostly covered by email records. The rest is a pain. A pain in my ass.

Sam Manley said...

Hooray to have you blogging again!

However it seems your time away has blurred your perception of things: There are no "tired jokes about Canadian-English" simply humourous, witty observations that should be pointed out whenever they occur.....ay.

But nevertheless lovely stuff here. Great to have a cathartic round up of the mentalist at work. Please now tell us whats different about living with the english (do we wash more or less? do we eat better or worse?)

P.s. Does looking at page-3 boobs in private make one more ethical? If so I am seriously ethical.

I'm Kate... said...

Damn.... Tell him to switch to decaf. I hurt for you as I read this. I hope he's paid you. I can see how at first his energy was probably motivating and refreshing - but 10 minutes of that would be all that I could take. Sounds like an ego fit for the music business...I've seen (and worked for) a few of these monsters. Glad you are not under his thumb anymore.

Kate Savage said...

Kate!!! You called it. His wife is a music exec person. He's already switched to decaf, and onto some 'magic' powder drink from Peru with a real kick. Apparently, it's also good for the libido. Though I never saw evidence of that.