Work things have been on my mind again lately. In April I’d come as far as thinking that in the long-term, it might be better to find a way to go back to work full-time and ace a full-time office job as well as find steady work gigging in the evenings/weekends a couple of times a week, and that perhaps this was the best use of my skill-set and the must fulfilling basis for my self-image, a way to be all I can be. When I left my last full-time job I was pretty depressed, burned-out and disillusioned about the prospects of working full-time – it’s only since I’ve been working less and caring less about it that I’ve been able to see things from a different perspective.
The reason I’m thinking about it more at the moment is that this week I have a dinner with someone from my old company; someone I worked with remotely over several years but have never met. The industry I work in is quite small and fairly incestuous; everyone seems to know each other and there are various ties between my current and previous company. It’s been hinted (through things this guy has said to me and to other people I work with) that they might want me back there and if that were the case, it would probably be the best deal for a job that I could ever work-wise, because since I left they seem to have come to a greater realisation of how much I did and was capable of in a way that no other company will have without the same kind of background experience. So this dinner tomorrow could be the first step towards finding out what if any options there might be, which feels like a big deal – even if not it’ll be a fascinating time meeting someone I’ve wanted to meet for ages and getting to talk lots of Japanese, eat fancy food and get caught up on old colleagues’ gossip, so it’s bound to be good either way.
This has left me raking over a lot of past history this week. I miss the place, and the people – it’s a special company that really has that family feel to it, much more sociable than our company and with the feeling that everyone was trying to achieve a common goal (as opposed to the place I currently work where everyone is basically just out for what they can get!) I had a much more varied role, was in the thick of things, had more influence and stronger friendships – and of course more exposure to Japanese. I was challenged more and pushed more and had better opportunities to learn and grow. If I’d had the strength and composure to stick it out there I would (eventually) have had a better salary and better prospects.
All of those changes, all of those things that are now negatives, were totally deliberate at the time. The way I was feeling when I left, I resolved to go for the easy option, take what I could get for as little effort as possible, and go for the option with the least stress – because at my old job I was all of those good things above, but I was also pretty much completely taken for granted, loaded with more responsibility than I had support, and was hung out to dry. I was easily annoyed by the little things (which I hope I’ve learned to deal with better), I was completely incompetent about my own emotional reactions to things, I was downright angry, and I was pulling away because I couldn’t see a way to fit that job in alongside the music career I really wanted to pursue.
Recently (as a way to get some Japanese listening practice) I’ve been watching some Japanese TV dramas – mostly office-based ones as that’s the kind of language I want to improve on. The Japanese work ethic is obviously very different and especially for men, especially those who are transferred as expatriates, the company is their LIFE and owns them completely until it releases them on a (comparatively) very early and well-provided for retirement. They work crazy hours and enjoy a heavy work socialising schedule on top. One of the programmes I’ve been watching (派遣の品格) is about Japanese contract workers and one girl in particular who works to rule, never does overtime, does exactly what she’s told and no more (hey! That’s ME!) and is completely frank about her opinions of the people she’s working with. Obviously it’s exaggerated for comedy value but the contrast between her attitude and the rest of the office is quite striking.
I’ve been pondering how it would feel to be a part of something again. I’ve been spending time imagining what it would be like to work a full day, to work overtime (a little bit, but regularly), to spend time really getting to know colleagues and working at their pace (you can get a lot more done by not doing it the Japanese way but I guess you miss out on a lot of the goodwill and depth of working relationships, particular mentor-mentee connections), whether I could bring myself to socialise say once a week, on top of the extra hours and the extra day? Whether I would actually feel more fulfilled?
It’s hard not to see it through rose-coloured glasses; the person I could be, the contribution I could make, the warmth I could feel for my workplace and my colleagues, the pride I could take in a difficult job well done. And yet there are risks as well – the risk that, for all I could do, my contribution would never be appreciated because I would never be able to give the level of dedication as a non-Japanese and a woman, the risk that I would be unfulfilled in what would still be office work keeping largely meaningless things moving for the sake of it, the risk that my health would suffer and my musical aspirations would fade away to nothing. The risk that in all of that, I would lose my soul and my grip on the things that mean the most to me. The risk that I would end up just as depressed as I was before.
I think ahead to the next few years and realise that if I want to have and raise a child, I only have three or four months left to build this “career” such as it is before it all goes to pot again and I have to re-think, come back in middle-age to build up again, or work on something new. An opportunity of sorts? Or the end of a chapter? I have no idea what shape my life will take. I have no idea whether an opportunity exists or will be up for discussion. It’s completely unsettling and exciting at the same time.
I know this much: that I am longing for change. I think the desire to do more, to be more involved, to use more of my skills and ability – these are all things which indicate that the depression has faded into the background and I’m ready to get out and fully live again. I hope that by this time next year my situation will be quite different – even if I’m still in this job, hopefully it won’t be the only thing I’m doing. I’m ready to at least explore what might be out there. Even if this particular conversation comes to nothing, I am ready to try and do more, be more, to push to the edges of what I’m capable of.
I also know that time is short. Whatever I’ve been trying and failing to achieve since I moved back here at 24, that period of my life as a young professional is in its in final stages. It might turn out that I never need the other professional and linguistic skills I was contemplating because I could find a forever-job at a company I can invest myself and my time in. I might find freedom to just pursue music and have that be enough. Or it may be that I’ll need every skill and qualification I can gather to compete in the employment market post-child-rearing. I’ve always had this idea that my career would be linear, one way or another – that I would find a direction and the path would be clear. But now it seems increasingly patchwork, made up of different phases which require a whole hotch-potch of skills and greater determination than ever to find a job for which I’m uniquely suited.
Food for thought though!