music, opinion and technology

i know the feeling

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No, really, I do. I’m referring to Wil Wheaton’s latest update to his weblog: being hit with a case of “yuppie flu” (infectious mononucleosis, a.k.a. “mono”) has made him question the things he’s been doing for himself and others. I can pinpoint three separate times in my life when I’ve been forced to make changes and shrug off the demands placed on me, by myself as well as others.

1991: In the last stages of my electronics apprenticeship at Highveld Steel in South Africa, I had been placed at one of their satellite factories, where I made a good impression and struck up good working relationships with the people there. The culmination of this effort came when I finished my apprenticeship in 1989, and was immediately (and controversially) appointed to a higher post than was normal, with more money, authority, status… envy… and responsibility.

Fast-forward through almost two years of long hours and late-night callouts in dirty conditions, to the point where I was genuinely worried about the long term effects on my health. I eventually resigned and returned to the UK, to London. My hard-earned savings went almost nowhere, and I was on “the dole” within three months. It took all three of those months before the last metallic dust worked its way out of the skin on my hands. I needed the break, though.

1996: I eventually found work, first a fixed-term contract administrative position at the Victoria & Albert Museum, then a full-time job in a major publishing company. I’ve talked about this time before, when I discovered that I had some writing talent; it wasn’t in the job description, but I was soon writing comparative reviews of PCs and accessories, to general approval.

As I’ve noted before: when you become good at something, your reward is to do it again and again. Not a problem if the Quality is there, but this situation became a serious problem of, well, Quantity. After a few episodes of high-pressure writing – such as a magazine’s editor standing behind my chair while I wrote an article conclusion, so he could send it straight to the presses – it all came to a head.

I worked a 36-hour day on a review of tape drives, was forced to perform extra tests to satisfy a clueless editor, and couldn’t get up the next morning. Literally. I knew I was “knackered”, set three different alarms, and slept through all three. Just a week earlier I had gently tipped over in a restaurant, during lunch, and bashed my head on the next table, so this was the last straw. When I got to work at lunchtime, and was called on the carpet for my trouble, I gave my 28 days notice.

1998: Something makes me a finicky employee, all-too-aware that it’s never a charity: the employer needs me as much as I need them. After a suitable rest, I went back to contract work, which started with a bang, or was it a crunch? A 5-day contract was going well, but on the last day I severely sprained my ankle while running to catch the Tube to work. I just kept on going, and finished the job I was contracted for, but by mid-afternoon I was in trouble. They gave me a lift to the station, and I barely made it home OK, took off my shoe, upon which the ankle ballooned up horribly and I was largely immobile for almost a week.

The next contract was with a major financial services company in England, wrangling PCs. This contract didn’t end too well, after they offered me a permanent position… and I turned it down. I remember saying something like “I have no trust you will fix the problems in this department, I don’t want to be part of it”. An arrogant thing to say, even though I still think I was right. The boss later refused to give me a reference – which was better than a bad one, I suppose.

After that, another financial services company, another contract, this time a more satisfying and interesting position. The problem was the commute: two hours each way, on a North London bus to The Tube, then to a train taking me deep into Surrey. After nine months of this, they offered to extend my contract, at which time I fell seriously ill with some virus I had picked up. It developed into pleurisy. I wasn’t flat on my back for a week – no, that was too painful, it took a particular arrangement of pillows before I could breath comfortably. I almost passed out on the way to the pharmacy for painkillers.

After that, the commuting had to stop, and a mere extension to this contract wasn’t going to persuade me to relocate. When the contract expired, I was unemployed again, and started looking for a permanent position. Eventually – nearly a year later – I had one, and I’m still here nearly six years later.

Never mind that the company, or my part of it, has practically disintegrated under my Aeron chair – that’s a story for another year, when I no longer work here. With that, and my five home relocations in as many years, you might say that things have not stood still for long enough for me to get sick of them.

Gee, thanks, Wil! This is what happens when one of your posts strike a raw nerve: a mess of text falls from my fingers onto the keyboard with an almighty splotch. Now, where’s that spell-checker..?


Written by brian t

June 8, 2005 at 7:12 pm

Posted in philosophy, work

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