Around this time of year I normally go through a process of looking at what has happened over the past 12 months from the mindset of:
- Where was I this time last year?
- Where did I want to be at the end of the next 12 months? (In this case, the present)
- Where do I want to be this time next year?
During school, college and university years this was fairly straight forward. It was less so after university, but it did mean that I had far more flexibility rather than ticking all of the Life on a piece of paper boxes. The year that preceded joining the civil service Fast Stream out of all of those years was the one I looked back on with…sheer incredulity that I had crammed in so much into such a short space of time. It was one of those “If someone said at the start of the year I’d be doing all of that and achieving even more, I would not have believed them” years.
Where was I at the end of 2010?
2011 was never going to be one of those years. In part because the Coalition were really beginning to show their teeth as far as public sector job cuts were concerned throughout the preceding autumn. The department I was in wanted a 40% headcount reduction in the space of less than two years. In an organisation of several thousand, such a process inevitably becomes a bloodbath for all involved. My original plan was to fight tooth and nail – sticking to the principle of staying a civil servant until they kicked me out. A number of things happened that late autumn that changed my mind.
The first was whether I wanted to spend the next two years of my life eeking out a miserable existence waiting for someone else to decide my future, or whether I wanted to take some sort of control. I chose the latter
The second was whether I had any confidence in the policies that the department I was working for was charged with delivering, as well as the ministers in charge of them. I felt that I did not have enough confidence in either the policies or those at the top responsible for delivering them for me to meet my obligations as a civil servant.
The third was social media. What happened to Sarah Baskerville horrified me, and the thought that newspaper journalists could start hounding family and friends because of a misplaced tweet or social media message was one I wanted to avoid. Given that I seemed to be getting more interested in social media and its potential use, I wanted to explore this field further. The problem was that I found the restrictions in the civil service prevented me from really exploring this field. I felt that I needed to be outside of the civil service to comment on what was going on inside it.
The fourth one was the impact on my workmates. There were lots of people there with family, mortgages, children and other commitments who needed the stability and security of a full-time job far more than I did – as I made clear in one of my opening blog posts back in August 2011. Being in my early 30s with an interest in a growing field, I felt that I stood a far better chance in the wider world than those who had perhaps spent the past couple of decades in a similar administrative role and who felt that – and with good reason – their long experience in the public sector would not be seen in high regard by private sector employers.
The final one was the financial impact. The redundancy settlement that was calculated had the potential to clear off all of my outstanding debts – a millstone that had hung around my neck for over a decade and one that at times caused some considerable anxiety. The thought of not having to watch the overdraft limit or having to keep watch that I was keeping up with various payments was one I could not afford to ignore.
The downside of all of that though was the prospect of not being in a job, and potentially throwing away a career that I thought was going to last for far longer. But weighing everything up, I decided to jump. In the run up to Christmas I made it clear to my bosses that I was going to put my name forward for the voluntary exit programme.
I was fortunate that the programme I was working on came to its natural end in April 2011, leaving residual programme closure for the remaining months. Thus I had some sort of a focus – tying everything up and ensuring that ‘lessons learnt’ were properly documented and fed into the programmes of the new government. Public administration lessons learnt apply irrespective of who is in office. (Even more so now that there is so little difference policy-wise between the three main parties).
I also started turning up to a number of social and digital media conferences in the first half of the year. Sometimes it would cause a bit of friction because while all of these gatherings had a strong public sector/civil service focus to them, there was the tension of needing to be there for the day job versus me having an eye on trying to work out what I was going to do post-civil service.
Around the time of leaving the civil service I also began the process of coming off long term medication. I wanted to move towards a non-medicine-based method of managing my mental health problems – essentially a generalised anxiety disorder. (I go into further detail in the post Going beyond a pill). I started taking the medication just before starting the fast stream and had been on them for five years. The summer seemed to be the best time to go through the inevitably difficult process of coming off long term medication. Hence between June-July 2011 I was a bit of a zombie. At the time it felt like lots and lots of sleeping.
During the later summer, I started getting hold of some of the hardware and software that I thought would be either useful or that I would need to familiarise myself with in a future social and digital media world. I also booked myself onto a number of courses that I thought were going to be useful too. But for all of the expenditure, I can’t pretend to have got value for money from those courses or the spending of the late summer and early autumn. This has been one thing that has been incredibly frustrating but in part I only have myself to blame. I needed to be far more proactive and self-starting in the way others perhaps have done.
The extended courses – the teacher training and the engineering courses have been more successful. On the former I’ve scored a provisional pass. Assuming moderation does not throw any spanners in the works, as soon as I get the certificate I’ll be qualified to teach any subject that I have an A-level equivalent qualification in. My first two-of-five assessed assignments for the engineering module with the Open University have been returned with 89/100 and 90/100 respectively – though there is an examination at the end which I need to see through.
Finally, there has been the take-off (in more ways than one) of Puffles the dragon fairy. I had no idea that Puffles was going to be as popular as Puffles currently is. (Third person gender-neutral singular that is more ‘personal’ than “it”?) It involved playing around with photoshop, pens and paper and finally searching and finding a micro-business that would manufacture prototypes. As far as the cuddly toys are concerned, I’ve been stupendously lucky with everyone who has bought one and with the manufacturer.
Then there is the “people” side of Puffles – that’s most of you who found this blog via Puffles’ Twitter account. One of the things that has been a source of personal frustration over the past ten or so years is not having found people where I have multiple common interests with where lasting friendships have endured over the years. Through Puffles I seem to have overcome that barrier – in particular through some of the regular “off-line” gatherings that I have had with a number of you over the past year or so. Being able to interact with so many people from so many different backgrounds has opened my eyes to so many different things. I’ve learnt so much from so many of you and have finally found outlets to discuss and debate things that for whatever reason people I was meeting elsewhere at other social activities or occassions were not really interested in.
For everyone who has made time to meet for coffee, who has come along to a pub lunch, who has met for drinks and/or who came to PufflesCamp, a big ***Thank You!*** from me for being the bright lights in what has been an otherwise miserable year for so many people.
Where am I now?
And yet paradoxically still imprisoned…within my own mind. Not in a mental health capacity, but rather in a “what do I do now?” sense. I’ve been applying for jobs – unsuccessfully thus far. I’ve also completed my initial teacher training, something that has helped significantly in terms of widening my options as well as giving me ideas for what to do for 2012. Breaking out of that ‘imprisoned’ mindset (which for the most part is associated with having to move back in with my parents post-London) is the biggest challenge.
Where do I want to be this time next year?
I’m part of the ‘Boomerang Generation‘ of people who have moved out of home only to move back in later on because of financial pressures. Much as it’s nice to be close to my family and much as I am grateful for their support, I want to be able to stand on my own two feet. Ultimately that means being back in full-time work and having my own place. When I was living and working in London, I just got on and did stuff. Being back at home seems to have had an impact on my ability to be like that – a sort of ‘mental block’ that I can’t quite yet figure out.
Where I end up working and living will impact on everything else. One of the things that I found with the one-off training sessions I did on digital and social media in 2011 was that there was a lack of continuity with it all. I quite like doing courses – my disposition is of someone who has an ongoing desire for greater knowledge. I don’t particularly want to do exams in them – life on a piece of paper and all that. But what I am able to do is dependent on where I end up. During my London days I was fortunate to be close to places where I was able to keep up an active social life, even if with hindsight it wasn’t particularly emotionally fulfilling. The nature of the area was that the population was ever so transitory that the people you were meeting were different every week and after a while it got boring having to re-introduce yourself over and over again knowing that you were probably not going to see them ever again.
The two things I’d like to do outside of a day job are around art and music – basically creative stuff. On the art side, I almost don’t know where to start – although I do have ideas about what I want to create. The two biggest barriers are not having a suitable environment to work in nor people to bounce ideas off on a regular basis. On the music side, you could say similar.
On the digital media side it boils down to spending less time tweeting and blogging, & more on longer term more detailed projects that will allow me to learn by doing. Essentially the size of my digital media footprint needs to be bigger than the sum of its parts. If people want more dragon fairies, it means setting up a smooth ordering process for people and ensuring that I have enough ‘stock’ rather than waiting until I have enough interest to order new batches. I would like to host some sort of an event (or two) that brings together as many people as possible that follow Puffles on Twitter – if anything so that you can all meet each other as well as myself. Something for the early summer perhaps? It also means coming out from behind the mask that is Puffles’ Bestest Buddy. I’m not there yet, but I will be soon…hopefully!