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Without a Plan

Without a Plan: Manufacturing a Crisis

So it’s taken 19 years to take me from bright eyed bouncing boy and school achiever to a college dropout who’s officially unemployed. There’s a thousand ways up, it’s the same way down.

Yeah, I make it sound worse than it really is. I took an informed, considered choice that would irrevocably alter the planned course of my life and it was only affected a small amount by my desire to own a car.

My first big decision in my new life was to redecorate my bedroom. A few years previous, I was away on a skiing trip in France and my parents redecorated my bedroom in orange and yellow. Orange was my favorite color at the time, having taken over top spot from the more morose blue. Clearly I’d been feeling jazzy about my life (I still love orange, but am less jazzy these days) but now I needed something new.

I went with a muted earthy color palette and did the work myself, earning praise from my Dad (which was genuinely a proud moment – he did this shit all the time with all the moving) and a week of physical work that yielded great results. It was a real shot in the arm for my state of mind, given that I’d just hurled myself out of the airplane without a parachute.

I went on Unemployment, which netted me a small weekly income, but meant that I had to basically apply for any job I could find. Unfortunately I wasn’t really the target audience of the Job Center, given that I was really looking for higher level positions than they had. I was good with going in at the ground floor, but it had to at least be the right industry.

My dole status gave my old friends great mirth when they all came back at Christmas and discovered my status. Not long afterwards, the Job Center told me I’d have to take a competency test because I hadn’t been placed in a role.

Rather than suffer the humiliation, I came off Unemployment. At that moment, the universe intervened.

The Purchasing Manager at a rival firm to the one my Dad worked at was looking for some help, and had offered to give me an interview as a favor to Dad. We went to town, my mum bought me a suit (as I had no money of my own!) and I went off to interview … and got the job, somewhat unsurprisingly. I don’t say that with my head up my own arse, but as an extension to the ‘favor to Dad’.

The role was a ‘progressor’. I was there to ‘progress’ orders, i.e. chase our vendors when goods didn’t come in. We were an electronics manufacturing firm, operating on tight margins in an ever-shrinking industry in the UK. My Dad was managing the exact same problems over in his area of town, and had been for most of my life. He was always afraid of losing his job, for fear of what that would do to us. Because of the industry he was in, it was a real risk pretty much the whole time I’ve been alive.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t great at my job. I hate talking on the telephone, and this was 2004, well before people preferred emails and texts over voice conversations. I’m also not good at being pushy and arguing with people. Really, I was a terrible choice for this job, and the more I think about it, the more I owe my Dad and my boss for going along with it.

However, I did enough to keep things rolling and to stay employed. I spent a lot of time at the computer and even when there was nothing going on, I tried to look busy. In 2004, the ban on smoking enclosed spaces hadn’t come into force yet. I would spend the days soaking in a stew of cigarette smoke from the eight admin staff they employed (because they refused to use computers in admin, everything was typed by hand), and the choking pipe smoke from another colleague. When I got home it smelled like I’d spent the day in a pub.

I tried to block this out and motivate myself by writing whenever I had a spare moment. A Massively Multipler Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) called The Matrix Online had come out in Beta when I was still at University, and I was very active in the community. I loved The Matrix and its sequels (yep, both of them) and was loving the game, especially the Role Playing outside aspect of it, where I would trade stories about our characters with other players in our guild. There was one guy I used to write alongside who was always deeply impressive. I was in quiet awe of his skill with the written word, and it was of no surprise to me that he’s gone on to be very successful in a creative role.

I wrote a lot. They started off as quick posts, shorter than one of these blog posts (that’s not difficult, I hear you scream as you question Why am I still reading these?!) but eventually growing into multi-chapter epics. It was an exhilarating time, and it made me look incredibly busy at work!

I was at the company for two years. I didn’t spend all that time behind the desk either, I worked in the stores on and off when needed, I manned the PCB cutting station, I assisted with quality inspections at our PCB factory. I learned a lot about a company, and how and why it works the way it does. Even though the company was old fashioned in a lot of ways, it was their procedures that were behind the times, but the business processes themselves were sound. Even though much of the day-to-day had been monotonous, I walked away having learned a great deal that would set me up well for the future.

But why did I walk away?

Obviously I was bored, but I had to be pulled out of my funk, I didn’t do it myself. I did look for jobs, but half heartedly, and I don’t know how long I would have stayed in that mild depression were it not for my best friend, the guy who offered an olive branch of friendship on the school bus a long time ago.

He had been a year ahead of me, so had graduated University and was into work whilst I was ‘progressing’. He was working tech support for a big company up North (it calls me back always), and had recommended to his bosses that they give me an interview. In his words to them, everything he knew, he learned from me.

Gulp.

After two desk bound years, my waistline had expanded. This was unforeseen to everybody involved, as I’d always been like a twig growing up. It was also discovered at an unfortunate time, as I was putting on the suit from two years ago, to go and interview to work with my friend and had to catch a train later that morning.

So I get the suit on looking, as my Mum put it, like I’d stuffed two balloons down the back of my trousers, and went to the train station. I had decided (I think been talked into it) to take the train and not drive. This would be a mistake.

I take the train to Crewe, and discover that the office is down a long road to an industrial estate that is not paved. It’s mid-August and has been raining, so by the time I reach the office my shoes and the hems of my trousers are covered in road muck, and I am all out of sorts.

I chat well with my first interviewer, and then find out that she’s just pre-screening me. The next interview is at another office. None of this was communicated to me, and I obviously have no way of getting there. The interview is also in 30 minutes.
We scramble a taxi, with the promise that the journey will cost exactly what I have in my wallet.

It does not.

We arrive late, and the driver graciously waves the additional fee as a penalty to himself for being late. He didn’t really have any other choice, I had not another penny to spare.

Let’s cut right to it. I fuck up the interview. I’m surprised I didn’t get my friend fired, given that ‘everything he knew, he learned from me’ and what I proved was that I knew nothing and was a gibbering idiot who can’t buy a suit that fits.

The ride all the way back home was hugely deflating, and I moped about it for weeks, still at my old job. Wait, didn’t I say I walked away?

Well, my good friend wasn’t finished trying to help me. When he’d left University (with a full degree, I should add) he also found it impossible to even get interviews, let alone a job. He had come across a company offering training courses to help ex-Forces personnel retrain for IT jobs, and also opened the course to non-military personnel. He’d paid for the course, spruced up his CV, and got the job he was at (and tried to help me get).

I knuckled down, saved a few thousand pounds, borrowing the rest from the bank on a now-sadly-terminated educational loan program, and before long walked out of the desk job and found myself in Coventry, living for 8 weeks in a shared house with a bunch of ex-military guys looking for a job that didn’t involve war.

2 replies on “Without a Plan: Manufacturing a Crisis”

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