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Weeknotes S04E11: Is this the point at which everything changes?

There’s a point in every story when the author has to sit down and work out how to develop the character further. No different with me. I’m sitting and weighing up different roles in an attempt to figure out how to drive my personal development in the direction I want it to go.

Part of that will be a job, and part of that will be the not-job space in between. Many things have happened this week. I think about…4.

1This week I’ve had interviews for two exciting roles. I may be jinxing myself by talking about this, but all the same I want to talk this out.

One is at a startup. The work will be deeply challenging. It will test me, and there will almost certainly be failures. That’s okay. Failure is learning. It will also set me up for accelerated promotion in the Service. 1I’m coming to realise it’s where I’ll always return to. Duty is both my anchor and my foundation.

I went back and forth on mentioning this but the reason I write these notes is partly for myself and partly to see what the community makes of them and what advice they have, so: the salary for this role is huge. It would put me in the top million highest earners in the UK. It’s a Big Number, and the only reason it interests me is because it means I could give a charity like The Parent House enough to hire a whole person.2That speaks to both the obscenely high salary I would get and the grotesquely low salaries in the 3rd sector Should that be a factor in my decision making?

Finally, it will take over my life. Startups are chaos engines and working there would mean willingly giving up, at least for a short time, on all my extra-curriculars. I enjoy those.

Then there is a significantly more relaxed Civil Service promotion. Good work, important work, but without the incredible pressure of a startup. Flexibility to work four days a week and study more Russian, or the piano, or rock climbing. I hear that’s cool. I’d like to try it.

As an aside, a friend has offered to give me a couple of free lessons so I can try out this piano lark and find out if I really do want it. I will never cease to be amazed at the generosity and kindness and brilliance of people around me.

Of course I could stay where I am. Settle in, work my way slowly through this enormous organisation. Live comfortably. Live entirely without stress. Get promoted eventually.3There is another option, where I continue being nosy and push at the boundaries between ‘doing my job’ versus ‘doing the job I’d really like, and doing it really annoyingly well’ until someone decides to take a chance and let me do the job I’d really like. That’s a slow-burning plan, but probably one that I’d pursue if I stayed where I am. I can’t help it. I’m literally incapable of not trying to push the boundary

The job question isn’t a job question at all, but a choice about the person I’d like to be. Is it senior? Is it diving into the hard, unpleasant, people shaped problems and solving them with grace and aplomb? Or is it to craft quietly, work hard, move forward with a community of people?

Here’s the rub. I am an existentialist (in a self-affirming way: because existence precedes essence one becomes a thing by being it) and I know that there’s no divine plan and there’s nothing built into me that will push me one way or the other. I can choose, and only I can choose.

These are the days when I wish I were not an existentialist. Choosing is pain. But like the man says:

2I was trusted to deliver a briefing this week and it felt good. It felt so good. I didn’t realise how much I missed it until I felt the old feeling uncoil in my brain. It seemed to go down well too. To a certain extent writing a good briefing feels like writing code: you’ve got to be able to zoom in and out and get the right level of abstraction for the user. Too abstract and they won’t have enough information, but too much means you’ll never get through the briefing in the half-hour you’ve seized in a diary that looks like a champion-level game of Tetris.

3I filled up next week’s evenings entirely. I’m trying a singles night where we’re playing Cards Against Humanity, because Structured Fun is the best kind of fun. I’ve got chess with a treasured friend, a picnic in the park, and potentially a dinner out with a different friend. I am very, very excited to see all these wonderful people and also to try, for the first time in ages, putting myself in a social situation where I don’t know anyone at all. This is all post-breakup stuff that I’m encouraging myself into, because I know if I don’t I’ll dwell by myself. So at least once a month I’m going to try one of these nights because only when we’re way out of our comfort zone can we grow. And this, this is so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t see it with a telescope.

4I spent an entire day at the Science Museum that culminated in seeing the Top Secret exhibition. Tickets are free and it’s an immensely enjoyable little exhibit. I wouldn’t make a long trip solely for it, but luckily you’re literally in a museum surrounded by other museums, so…there should be other stuff for you to see. I actually saw the exhibit twice; once with a lovely friend who patiently let me try to explain the inner workings of an Enigma machine by waving my hands violently in the air and once with a group of people from across government with much more tech experience. Both occasions were pure pleasure. Do take a friend and, if you feel particularly mischievous, comment “Oh, it’s so weird to see that here when I usually walk past it every day” as you walk past every exhibit and see how many people start following you around.4You do this at your own risk and I accept zero responsibility for you waking up in Gloucestershire with the smell of vegan sausage rolls in your nostrils

I’m currently listening to How to Fail as an audiobook. I’m enjoying the longform feeling but I’m not convinced it’s going in as well as it would if I read it. It’s very good though, so do get it into your brain any way you can.

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  1. “The job question isn’t a job question at all, but a choice about the person I’d like to be.”

    I think there are 2 really important questions which have guided myself, or which I’ve learnt over the years:

    1. Are you choosing to do something because the nature of the work personally interests you? If you’re genuinely passionate about what you do half-an-hour into your day, then it’ll make all the difference. Too many devs, for instance, want a coding job for the money, not for the problem-solving and joy of delivery.

    2. Do you like the people you (would) work with? This is one of those gut things, like the light and ‘feng shui’ in a house. Culture is your world, in a workplace.

    Be honest with those two, and you may move on from your choice further down the line, but at least you won’t have regrets. Probably. 😉