Category Archives: Work

Next Steps

I’m going to get a promotion and buy a house.

Easy to say when it’s just in letters, on a back-end-of-the-internet blog. But that is what I’m going to do.

The promotion is already happening, a bit. Not in a permanent way, but in a very definite we-can-work-on-this way. In a moving forward productively way.

The house thing is happening as well, in that I have looked at a lot of houses on the internet, and one in person, and I’ve talked to an adviser about mortgages, and googled “the best place to live in Leeds”.

It’s all terrifying.

I’ve made a bit of a significance out of always moving forward, and always bettering myself in small ways every day. Right now I have a lot of times where I feel like there is no possible way of climbing the enormous mountain of life, or even the enormous mountain of getting out of bed in the morning. But I also have a few times where all these things feel achievable, and like things that I have watched other people do with great success.

And like things that will not end the world even if they don’t pan out perfectly.

So here I go, taking steps.

Brave New World

(Two asides to begin with – If you haven’t read the book ‘Brave New World’ I really recommend it. Also this is my 497th post, and since I’ll totally miss whenever I hit 500 I’m celebrating now. Look at me and all my fancy internet writing)

Anyone who read my last post, or who knows me, or really has interacted with me in the vaguest way, knows I am a nerd through and through. So it is of no surprise that I’m very excited about Leeds Digital Festival. Aside from anything, I know it is happening, which is often a challenge for me – I hear about all the most exciting theatre shows as they close, or academic talks just the final ticket sells. I’m generally bad at “keeping up”.

Other reasons for my excitement about the Digital Festival revolve around the thrilling world of data protection law, and data in general. Not to mention WordPress, cybersecurity, and people doing cool things with code. I’m a big fan all round to be honest.

My previous job was heavily involved in digital, from web content and plugins through to data processing and SEO. I fell into it (as one does), and for me it’s been down the rabbit-hole of digital ever since. It’s a brand new language to explore, not just in terms of actual coding languages (which are a mystery to me, just like most other languages, see the origins of this blog for context) but in terms of the entire world of digital culture. Timeframes are different, the landscape is new, and the risks and rewards are somewhat crazy, but diverse and exciting.

I’m lucky, because I’ve managed to take a passing interest in digital and turn it into something that impacts my whole life, from this blog (which needs a new theme, I know, I know) through to embedding data analysis into my job (where it probably never belonged, but hey ho). And so the idea of getting together with the other digital nerds who like pretty graphs and confusing algorithms and the whole of our brave new world of digital, is slightly my idea of heaven.

Only friendly nerd comments welcome today, please and thankyou.

Know Your Limits

What a tightrope of a phrase.

There’s a big difference between knowing your limits and never pushing your limits. But there’s a very small difference between pushing your limits and breaking them, and as we know from *the law*, breaking limits is never good.

Yesterday I learnt a little more about my own limits when I went to the OperaSoc fundraiser. My limits include not being capable of reaching the bar spend on my own, though apparently I tried. I’m very thankful for my good friend, without whom I honestly think I might not have made it home.

[Incidentally, OperaSoc are performing Don Giovanni next week. It’s the first opera I took part in at Leeds, and I absolutely urge anyone local to go and check it out because it’s set to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G]

To return to the point, learning that personal limit was a good experience, even though it didn’t necessarily feel like it at the time. I know a new thing, and I can manage myself better now in that knowledge. That’s the thing about knowing your limits. It doesn’t have to be limiting unless you let it be. Knowing your limits means you know when you can push harder and achieve greater things, but it also helps you know when something is out of reach, or might harm you more than do you good (see: bottles of white wine and me in the example above)

What I’m trying to say, because everything has a moral except when it doesn’t, is that you should push your boundaries without pushing yourself. Broaden your horizons.

Maybe go see your first opera? Just a suggestion.

When I grow up

The great thing about not being a student any more, is that I can do what I like with my spare time. Where I used to spend my extra hours reading, or writing my thesis, or hating everything and guilt eating to try and distract myself, now I spend hours and hours playing computer games and that’s totally fine, because I’m a grown up.

Today I made candles.

I’m not really sure what all of that means, because I had a lot of visions of what I would be when I grew up, but none of them involved coffee, ripped jeans, Skyrim, 30 Rock, and incense, which have been the main themes of today. I wanted to be a doctor, and own a shop, and paint. Then when I got older I wanted to be a traveller, and a writer. Now, I think I might want to learn loads about charity governance and manage a team of people. At any rate, I’m not quite there with what being a grown up means to me.

I also get the impression that very few people do. We go through childhood revering adults as these amazing beings who have life totally figured out, and at times I trick myself into thinking that my friends and colleagues are like that. And maybe some of them are, but the majority still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and like me, will spend a day eating sweets for lunch and not wearing a bra whenever they can get away with it.

There isn’t really a point to this except to share that it’s fine (I think) to not know exactly how you want to be when you’re grown up.

Though one thing I do know is that when I grow up, I’m going to arrange to go see Matilda (finally).

Let it Be

Yesterday my friend had her leaving party before embarking on a whole new adventure. There were presents and tears and gifts and hugs, and it was all pretty lovely.

Yesterday, I was just excited for her, and happy that we managed to send her off smiling and laughing. Today, it dawned on me that she has really left, and that is a little bit terrifying. She made my job not only easier, but a whole lot more fun, and I’m not sure I’m ready for an office without her.

But then I thought some more about it. People leave and move on all through our lives, and I think learning to be ok with that is a true skill. All too often it can feel like being dropped or left behind, overtaken, or forgotten about. The truth is, it’s none of those things. Others aren’t beholden to us, and in the words of tumblr (paragon of all great quotes) “their success is not your failure”.

It’s important not to see yourself as the protagonist every time, and that has to be balanced with not seeing yourself as a supporting character either. You are the centre of your own  story, and it’s right to let other people be part of that. But they are also the centre of their own stories, and sometimes paths diverge. It is never a reflection on you when they do, just a part of another really big story (a lá “A Song of Ice and Fire”, the perfect example of interwoven narrative. Or any epic really. I just happen to like George RR Martin).

The point is (friends), learn to let people go and be happy for them when they do. And try to keep in touch so you can still see their story unfold.

Completion

I began this blog around 6 years ago, when I moved to Morocco. That was my second year of my university career. If you’d asked me then how long I thought I’d stay at uni, I’d probably have said “forever”. Which isn’t exactly untrue – that’s what a career at a students’ union affords you after all.

I doubt I’d have guessed 7 years, because that shouldn’t add up to any appropriate number of degrees (not when you start with a 4 year undergrad, at any rate). But here I am, 7 years later, happy to say that my university career is complete, at least for the moment. It’s not been the smoothest ride, but then I’m not sure that exists for anyone.

masters

The Apathy of Youth

As we know, I work at a Students’ Union, and it’s my decision to regret, so I blame no-one.

This week, unions around the country have been holding their leadership elections. We are no different, and part of being a staff member at an SU is always going to be encouraging moody students to take the power into their hands and vote for someone to represent them for 12 months.

So you can imagine how frustrating it is to as “Have you decided who you’ll vote for?” only to be met with “No, I’m ok thanks”.

"What's that? No no, no representation for me. No thanks. I'm ok. I'll just keep whinging about my course costs, and my living conditions, and my tutors, but I'll not do anything so radical as have a say who represents me when those matters are actually discussed"

I think my issue is clear. It’s symptomatic of my generation to have problems and care more about the catharsis of complaining than actually fixing anything. A mindset which was firmly embedded following the apocalyptic swing to the Conservatives during the General Election earlier this year. As one, the leftie youths stroked their manicured beards and said “stuff it, there’s no point trying. Better just whinge about everything via the medium of BBC3.”

This mentality of inaction annoys me, because the beauty of an SU is that it’s a microcosm of political reality, and change is being made every day. It might not be trashing-9K-fees level change, but it’s taking small steps to make actual members of the student community happy, and it’s getting done because people get out of their seats and do something.

Mahatma Gandhi may or may not have said “be the change you wish to see in the world” (I am never convinced that quotes are really real) and that is the message. We can’t all just fall back into our sofas in pathetic heaps of millennialdom – we probably won’t make it out of this century if we do.

In defence of the modern Students’ Union

I feel like I’ve been waiting to wade into this debate for months, and I’m finally ready. Let’s talk about Students’ Unions and freedom of speech.

Except let’s not. After all, everyone else has had their go. The most recent article I’ve read is this one, from the Guardian, and it got me thinking about my actual views on the matter, which are thusly.

  1. Freedom of speech is important. People died for our right to it, and there are hundreds of thousands of places in the world where it’s still curtailed.
  2. Students are people, and people can be hurt.
  3. Universities are places of learning and should be starting those difficult conversations, and encouraging challenging debate (my views on the education system aside)

Right, so these things keep fighting against each other. Students are humans, so they shouldn’t be subjected to situations which feel threatening to certain humans. But they’ve gone to university to learn, and where else will they be exposed to these views? And where better to encourage free discourse, in a sphere of learning and growth.

Fine.

Let’s just look at the word “union” for a second. A google-define (because I don’t have a paper dictionary to hand, sue me) gives the following definition:

Union

ˈjuːnjən,-ɪən
  1. the action of joining together or the fact of being joined together, especially in a political context
  2. a society or association formed by people with a common interest or purpose

Now. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know that we think of trade unions as empowering movements of positive social change (or maybe an irritating itch in the side of the status quo), and Students’ Unions used to be the home of debate, free thinking, and general sticking-it-to-the-man. But let’s get real, times have changed.

There’s a consistent rhetoric with the anti no-platform brigade. They criticise SUs for creating a nanny state and reducing the exposure of students to radical thought. Seriously though? I have the internet. I’m on it now. The people (quite rightly, in many ways) actively reducing exposure to radical thought, are the government. Many universities are trying to find ways around that, because in the modern world, engagement with radical and broad-ranging thought is key to degree-level discourse. Yes, there are institutions which are falling down, but it is the fundamental role of universities now to encourage freedom of thought and speech.

Where does that leave SUs? No longer the necessary platform for reform and protest, SUs are free to take on a new (and much-needed, in the current student landscape) position as the provider of a support system. With ever-rising fees and ever decreasing job prospects, students are in need of a place they can go for advice, to maintain their personal welfare, and to find a group of people with a common purpose. And they have a right to consider that space “safe”.

It is pertinent to mention, at this point, that my argument covers SUs as individual organisations, and I do understand the argument as it relates to the National Union of Students. Some of their broadcast views do seem to err in favour of preventing an informative and constructive debate. However, every article that has touched on this subject of late has mentioned “banning” certain things, or not allowing speakers into union buildings. That argument is misguided because it ignores the new value of the SU as an institution. No longer do we need a place to vent our revolutionary angst – universities are increasingly better at being a platform for that discourse – but what we do badly need, in the absence of relevant action from the government, are places to feel safe and supported. Why shouldn’t that place be the Students’ Union?

Respect

So last night I happened upon this article. For the lazy, it’s a guy talking about how he began to recognise that small things which didn’t bother him bothered his wife, and how he realised too late that by ignoring the fact that they bothered her (because he didn’t *get* it), he ended up not giving her the respect she deserved.

I think it’s a nicely written piece, and it broadly expresses some feelings I have about my own relationship (though we’ve transitioned from glass-beside-the-sink to recycling-bin-unemptied, which I think may constitute progress). It also made me think about the dynamic of expecting something of someone and respecting someone for doing something.

The continuation of this post is going to come across a little spoilt, because I’m going to use some examples from my own life, so let it first be said that I appreciate my attitudes could change in these situations, and I could work to find them less frustrating. But I still think that all of these examples show a fundamental lack of respect, so I’m going to use them anyway, spoiltness be damned.

There are certain types of people who are always going to be taken for granted, and I am one of those people. I have clear facets of my personality that are asking to be abused, and I am daft enough to allow this with only minor grumbling at the end of the day. I think when you’re a person who is keen to make others happy this is pretty commonplace, but I do think that there are occasions where it goes too far, and a person can stop feeling respected and start feeling devalued.

When I was at school (and in uni, I’m sad to say), most people I spent time with in class, spent time with me because I was a hard worker. I know this, because I still talk to three people who were in my year at school. Three. And two from my degree. I always felt like I had a lot of friends because I talked to a lot of people, and had someone to sit with in every class, and it didn’t matter that those people would copy my work, or casually slide over and see if they could be in my project group. Very occasionally, the lack of actual respect for me would come through, when I’d not had time to finish an essay, or a maths question. There would be an expectation that I’d help other people, to the point where they’d be rudely frustrated if *I* hadn’t done *their* work.

Another personality aspect which people take for granted is my ability to plan. I like having a plan, because I don’t like uncertainty, because it makes me anxious. But that doesn’t mean I like *planning* per se, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy. My work role requires detailed planning, and usually it’s by-the-by to change something, but on occasion it’s incredibly complex. More often than not, the person asking me to change these plans will have had ample opportunity to let me know they won’t work, and yet it is expected that I will change a planned meeting with 15 people in at the drop of a hat. Those people who do this the most frequently are those who are least appreciative of the effort which goes into the process, and that, ultimately, constitutes a lack of respect.

The last trait which I think is under-respected is enthusiasm. It is difficult for a lot of people to be enthusiastic about themselves, and I know how much I appreciate it when my friends are enthusiastic on my behalf. But when you actively encourage your friends on a consistent basis, it becomes the norm, and it becomes expected. Which is crazy, because no-one can maintain that level of enthusiasm for anything. So occasionally you drop off, and ask the wrong questions (or don’t ask any at all), or have the wrong reactions. When that illicits a negative response, that is when your friend is taking you for granted, rather than respecting how much effort you’re putting into caring about their life.

As I mentioned, I think this post comes across whiney, but after reading the article I linked at the top, I really stopped to think about what being respected as a person means. A lot of people find it difficult to value their own strengths, that that is made exceptionally difficult when it is thrust into your face that other people don’t value them either. I’m lucky that I never realised my peers were using my work-ethic, rather than respecting me more as a person for having it. If I’d realised, I might have tried less hard.

Long story short, take a step back and look at the people around you, and take a second to recognise what they do for you, and what it costs them.

This is the end

Hold your breath and count to ten.

Skyfall is a great song, and it’s a real shame that it is such a disappointment of a film. Bring back Sean Connery.

In other news, this is the end of my first week of full-time work. Which as a 24 year old feels like it’s been a long time coming, and I don’t feel like any more of a real grown-up for having gotten to this point.

Yesterday a part of me wanted to insist on going out for drinks and making an issue of myself, but that fairly quickly translated into doing the laundry in my tracksuit bottoms, which was undoubtedly a far better use of the evening. We create these “turning point” moments in our lives, and I have to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever really felt any different for reaching one of them.

I remember my 18th birthday. I had my friends over, and we sat and ate pizza and watched films. I didn’t get drunk. When I passed my driving test I went into school right after, having missed half of my biology lesson (which is impressive given we only had 3 lessons a day and they were an hour and a half each. I was LATE) and made some excuses about my instructors car breaking down. When I turned 21 I dressed up as a pirate. Most of the people I invited to my party didn’t come.

I felt a bit more important when I graduated, but only a bit. I knew, of course, that I was going to stay in the same city, in the same house, and go to the same university and study for a Masters while doing the same part-time job. I almost had a “turning point” when I quit that job, except that then I didn’t actually stop working for the company, I just felt like I’d made the point that they didn’t need to keep employing me out of any kind of duty.

So this week wasn’t a big deal, despite the fact that I’m somehow two years (at least) behind the curve of having-a-real-job-and-being-a-real-grown-up. I did not feel the Earth move (nice callback to the Adele references I opened with, you’re welcome), and the sky did not fall.

I wonder what it’ll be like tomorrow.