Friday 31 January 2014

Gardening leave, week 3

I now have four distinct periods of unemployment in my life. One was a desperate struggle to find work - any kind of work at all - after finishing my studies in Germany. To say I was unprepared and desperate and damn near depressed would be an understatement (I was also working four low-paid jobs to keep my head above water). If anything, I begrudge Germany that experience still. Never going to throw myself on the mercy of that place ever again. My partner left first, got a job, secured a flat and I came over . . .

. . . segueing into the second phase. Now, I had no bills really to worry about, but wanted to get a job pronto; in fact, I decided to take the first offer that came my way. It happened and the job was shitty data entry on a minimum wage, but the company realised quite quickly that that wasn't the extend of my capabilities and promoted me a couple times. I stayed there for more than three years before making the jump to financial journalism.

Cue a few years in financial journalism and then the switch to the "Dark Side" - aka, going off to work for banks. Loved the job. Loved the team. Loved the money. Bank then decides it's no longer part of its strategy to do what my team was doing, so we were all put on "gardening leave". We were let go in mid-November, and several weeks passed where details like payouts and such were decided. I received a really nice "Sorry to kick you out" payout so I couldn't really get angry at them. I was more sad about losing the most awesome team I've ever worked with. Everybody was frigging brilliant. That "gardening leave" period lasted about six weeks - I landed the only open job on the market during that period and had the offer by year-end. I started work in late January, so that was about 9 weeks total.

By that point, I was, according to both my partner and my business partner, a "nervous wreck". I'm pretty sure both were happy to see me return to corporate slavedom without killing anybody in the interim. I've fantasised about another "empty" period while still employed with the current shop, and I was completely determined to do things better next time. You know, write a book, or five. Tackle my inbox and get it down to zero. Learn something, like a language.

This is now the fourth distinct period, third week in, and I'm beginning to feel the strain. I'm reading more, but I'm also sleeping a LOT more, and I struggle with motivation and focus. (Part of what I'm reading is "how to fix your mind"-type books, because I'm struggling to get the current book done and even write a hundred words per day, let alone a thousand or more.)

It might be a simple matter of adjustment, or lack of structure - I don't think it's depression, though the mix of procrastination and "meh, whatever" feeling certainly veers close to that. I'm trying to go outside to catch some light - winter can be a struggle to get through for me, and this is one of those winters that are just grey and wet. I'd do better in snow or that cold, crisp brightness of a postcard winter. What I'm getting is London Cement Grey. I struggle falling into the book to fix it. I struggle thinking of strategies to fix it, though I know I'm smart enough to fix every stupid novel I could possibly encounter on my hard drive.

I did, however, make a list of books I want to write and hit a count of eighteen. (Some of those books might be starts to series, so that count is "upwards mobile".) The struggle is to dredge up the motivation to actually do it. In positive news, those eighteen books have a combined wordcount of under a million words, so if I end up unemployed for the rest of the year and if I find my motivation, I could finish them all this year. Three thousand words per day would do it. (I'm only talking about solo work. Bring Lori into the mix and we're looking at something like thirty books to write.)

I think what's really the biggest struggle is that lack of certainty. I'm interviewing for one job, and it would be a really good fit. Lots of money, good team, good company, decent commute. I'm in round two and I think I did well. I may hear from them next week, or maybe not. If I get the job, I'll likely be back under the corporate yoke by early March. If I get the job, it's not unrealistic to expect to finish 4-6 stories this year to fill the 2015 pipeline.

If I don't get the job, I'll get the payout from the current company somewhere in March (I'll be paid until March). The payout should keep me going for a few more months, certainly past the point where Hostile Ground and No Distance Left To Run hit the shelves - which should both sell a lot. Even if everything I have coming out this year is a flake, I can keep going on my savings until the end of the year or longer. (Security-loving Taurus loves squirelling away cash.) Completely free like that, I should be able to write 3k words per day. That's maybe 3-4 hours of intense writing. I know quite a few people who can do a LOT more than that, so 3k is a conservative estimate.

What's sapping energy is now knowing - and having no control either way. I do all the things you're supposed to do, activated my network and emailed a number of headhunters and agents and keep an eye daily on alerts and job portals.

But I'm cleanly divided down the middle with regards to what I want to happen. And that's quite painful. It's a good company (in a market full of shitty ones) and being employed appeals to my sense of security. Pension, mortgage, etc, investment portfolio. I like my creature comforts, and I don't like taking money from a partner to "fund my dream" - being dependent is not so much a dream as a deeply-ingrained self-confidence nightmare.

However, I have that "dream" thing going on, where not having to work for a living means I can research more, write more, travel more, and learn interesting stuff, to maybe forge a totally new career path based on coaching/tapping/massage/acupuncture. I'm quite aware that that path does require money (travelling isn't free, either, and that's again where the "creature comforts" come in), which was why I was originally planning to do all that "in the next 3-5 years". The universe fast-tracked that one and I'm just not sure if I'm ready.

The middle ground is going freelance and picking up the occasional temp/contract gig, which wouldn't be so bad, as those are usually even better paid than the full-term gigs. I have a fairly specialised skill set at this point that's hard to outsource (never mind the compliance department freaking out over data confidentiality and all).

So it feels like I'm trapped in limbo, with no fixed point, and writing doesn't provide the focus or motivation to pull me out of that funk. That doesn't bode well for the full-time writer thing - unless things change totally and I get a decision either way. I could battle with my back to the wall, but it's harder with my back to an undefined fog. Maybe getting an ultimatum ("make a living by end-2014") would be good for motivation. I can be very productive when I'm scared.

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