TFIF Dress-Down Friday!

Thank flubalubs it’s finally Dress-Down Friday. Not just because Friday signals the end of the week, and in this case for us in the UK, a long weekend with Bank-Holiday Monday, but because I finally get to wear jeans to work.

After twelve and a half years working in the NHS, where jeans were not allowed, except for the once-yearly charity event, Jeans for Genes Day, the company I now work for has Dress-Down Friday each week as one of their benefits (wow. I now have a job with benefits!).

This may not seem like much to you, but years ago, before I entered the thirty-something crisis period, I would always say “I wish I had a job where I can wear jeans to work”, usually followed by a big sigh. Workers wearing jeans usually seemed more relaxed which I guess was the appeal for me.

While I only get to wear blue jeans to work, I can get away with black jeans the rest of the week, although I wear smarter dresses and skirts too, depending on my mood. If I feel like I need to be more confident, then a dress comes out and when I get to work I slip on my heels.

While this job may not be my dream job, I have acquired that which I had dreamt of years before. It’s a denim- clad step in the right direction.

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Jobs with Benefits: No Strings Attached?

When I moved to London last May following the completion of my degree, I came here with the intention of getting a job related to my studies. My Bachelor’s degree was in American Studies, so, you might ask, what kind of job did I intend to get?

American Studies is one of those degrees that doesn’t really have a particular job attached to it. If you do a degree in accountancy, you know that your future is going to involve Excel spreadsheets and a calculator. In fashion, at least a pair of scissors. American Studies…America? The whole reason I went to university was because I had this epiphany a week before my 30th birthday. I had been searching my soul the previous few years, asking myself what it was that I wanted in life, where I wanted to be. The epiphany answered: living and working in America was all I had ever really wanted. As a teenager I used to wish I had been born on the other side of the pond; I hated being British, and it was really only the influence of my extremely patriotic English ex-husband who persuaded me that it was a good thing to be British. Now I am proud of my nationality, but I still see America as the place I have always wanted to be.

About nine months before my 30th birthday, prior to having this great revelation, I decided that if I wouldn’t ever the get the chance to live in America, then I should at least have a dream trip there. Having got the agreement from my then-husband that we could do it, I spent months researching the places I wanted to visit (conclusively, along the West coast) and more months investigating flights and accommodation. Painstakingly looking at the international flights to and from the States, the domestic flights from place to place, costing up hotels and car hire.

A couple of months before our trip, during my intensive research stage, my ex-husband intimated that this wasn’t really a trip he wanted to go on at all. My reply, to both our surprise, was that I was going, even if I had to do it alone. He laughed and said that I wouldn’t even go to the Co-op on my own.

He had a point. I hated going to supermarkets on my own, going clothes shopping on my own. I even hated nipping to the local shops to pick up milk. I hated going anywhere on my own; what made me think that I would be able to go travelling on my own?

I think it was then that I finally started to admit to myself that my marriage was crumbling.

It was something I had been in denial of for a long time, but the realisation that I was willing to do something as drastic as going travelling on my own, and the fact that my husband didn’t want to do something that was obviously so important to me, and more importantly it was a holiday – he loved holidays and we had two weeks in Orlando for our honeymoon – set the alarm bells ringing.

We did go on the trip, in September 2008. Six nights in Los Angeles, four in Las Vegas, and a day in drizzly Seattle. I had planned four nights in San Francisco and three in Seattle, but we had to cut our trip short, because he was due to start university. On the whole, we had a great time, and this trip cemented my love for the place I had seen on the big and small screen as a teenager, in a way that my honeymoon in Florida hadn’t.

Previous readers will know that I spent six months in the States as part of my degree. I won’t go into that now, as I want to get back to my original reason for this particular blog, other than to say that my study abroad period is where I realised that I could write, and gave me the confidence to know in my heart that writing is what I wanted to do in the future; what I wanted to be paid to do.

So fast forward to May 2013. I take the chance to move to London without a job. Having had no joy in finding a permanent job, I knew that temping would be the way to go initially. A month after moving, I was offered an administrative, data-type job, similar to what I’d been doing for twelve years before my degree. Being desperate for money, I took the job, thinking that it would give me the opportunity to pay the bills while searching for that elusive dream job of being paid to write.

After three months of being a temp, I was offered a six-month contract with the company, a luxury retailer. A further six months later brings us to last week, where I signed on the dotted line to spend another six months with them.

The great thing is that I now have a job with benefits. Never had a job with benefits before. Friends with benefits, sure, but never a job with benefits. The only perk I ever got from the National Health Service is 20% off Nandos. Which is a great perk that I still continue to receive, but sshhh, don’t tell anyone. I now get a subsidised travelcard, which will allow me to travel the whole of London for a quarter of what I currently pay to travel my short commute to work. I also get a staff discount and clothing allowance, although anyone who knows me knows that the only place I buy labels is in charity shops. I certainly can’t afford to buy clothes and accessories through my employer, staff discount or not.

I am now also being given the opportunity to travel on company business. I am currently on my way back to London from Leeds, the first of three overnight stays I will have in the next month.

But what about my America dream? My writing dream? I hear you ask. I ask myself that all the time. I still peruse the job emails I get through, and sometimes I make a note of the ones I want to apply for (although I usually don’t). But right now, I am happy to stay put, while I sort other areas of my life such as moving house.

While I only graduated last September, it does worry me that I seem to have lost my desire to chase the dreams that were realised over the last few years. I know in my heart I have given up on living in the States, because it’s very difficult to get a working visa. I know people with many more qualifications and connections in the US than me, and if they are struggling to get a visa, I ask myself how is a 35-year old with a degree in American Studies going to be given such an elusive opportunity.

A writing job is not so much out of the question, but the last few months has seen me question what kind of writing job I would want. Would I be happy with a copywriting job? Depends on the kind of copy. I’m not so great at flowery descriptive text. I write from the heart, from past experience, from current experience. I write about depression, having a coil fitted, sex, internet dating. I attended a crime writing panel last year, and listened to one of the published authors, with years of experience in the publishing industry, admit that this experience did not encourage her to become an author. Her revelation that authors and their books are described as “units” in the industry, and the focus being on sales, sales, sales, has stuck with me. I want to be a writer, I don’t necessarily want to work for the industry that enables other people to get published. Maybe if it were an easier industry to get into, I might pursue it, but in truth, I have shelved that idea.

So, where does that leave me? I really have no idea. All I know is that I need to keep writing, and have faith that what will be will be. I also know, from past experience, that you can’t just sit and wait for things to happen. So more effort is needed from me in order to make life happen.

The Friends with Benefits relationship has really become quite well known over the last few years. Films such as Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached have drawn audiences of the rom-com crowd, eager to see whether the fairy tale is possible in this modern day commitment-phobic agreement. While Friends with Benefits is synonymous with the term ‘No Strings Attached’, does the same go for a Job with Benefits? If so, then perhaps this is exactly the job I need right now. A mutually beneficial relationship that is not meant to be anything long term.

Jogga-Blog No. 4 and 5: AKA The Return of 33andlostinlife

Out of all the titles you could possibly have expected me to pick for my first blog post in almost two months, I bet you didn’t expect to see the words “Jogga-Blog”.  In fact, this is the fourth and fifth Jogga-Blog combined, because my first London-based jog occurred on Thursday evening.  While afterwards I was most pleased with myself, the closest I got to blogging about the experience was thinking about it.  Well, you know what they say, it’s the thought that counts.

Today I was up early, so I decided to take advantage of the nice morning, before the heat became too overbearing, and take myslf off on another jog.  Once round the park without stopping this time.  I was most impressed with myself.

You may be wondering why it has taken me so long to write another blog post since the publication of The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 1.  I’ll do my best to fill you in on what has happened in my life over the last seven weeks, and from then onwards I shall attempt to keep you updated on a more regular basis.

I managed to find a lovely flat in West London, which I’ve settled into now.  My “housemates” are slightly older than me, but it’s nice to be with people who are full of stories from their lives.  I love listening to them talking, because it gives me inspiration for writing.  While this is the first time I’ve put virtual pen to paper in some time, I’ve been jotting down notes in my mind.  My little notebook that I use for my writing ideas got dusted off the other day, and I’m delighted to say that some of my ideas made it onto the page.  But I finally feel like my creative juices are starting to flow, which makes me happy because the pipes have been clogged for some time. Now though, that all my university work is finished, I can write for pleasure, without having to worry about deadlines, and I am thrilled that my ideas may finally find a place in the world.

It took me a while, but in mid-June I finally found a temp job, working in the Head Office of a high-end retail company.  The office is located only four tube stops from where I live, so the commute takes around 30 minutes door-to-door, which is not too bad considering I work with people who commute up to four hours a day.  The work is very similar to what I did in the NHS, analysing data, but instead of patients, it’s handbags and high heels.  I had a job interview for a writing position for one of these Daily-Deal websites just before I was offered this post.  While I was slightly disappointed not to have got the job, I think I’m coming to the conclusion that, for now, I’m happy with a nine-to-five job that I can do without having to stress out over it, where the people are nice and the commute isn’t too long.  I can get work on getting my finances back into a manageable condition, and use my free time to do what I have wanted to do for so long: write.  This job is temp to perm, which means it may become permanent in a few months.

You may be wondering why I bothered to do a degree in American Studies, if I was only to get a job the same as what I was doing before.  Well I got my degree results the other day, and I will graduate from the University of Lincoln in September with an upper second-class honours, or a 2:1.  This is reflective of the work I’ve done over the last four years, and while last year I may have been disappointed not to have received a first-class honours, right now I am just glad to have made it to the end with some sense of sanity.  When I started my degree, my life was very different, and what I want to gain out of a degree now is not necessarily the same as it was when I enrolled back in September 2009.  While I would still love to have the opportunity to work in America, I am learning to pick and choose my fights, and the opportunities for someone like myself to make the USA my home are slim.  What I’d rather do is focus on what I want to do, which is writing, rather than where I want to do it.  Days like today, where the weather is 26 degrees centigrade (79 Fahrenheit), and the forecast for the next six days is much the same, I’m more than happy to be in London, which is like a little greenhouse full of heat, where I can spend my lunchtimes sunning myself in the park, and the early evenings in the garden.

So I have somewhere to live, a job, and lots more time on my hands.  One thing I don’t have, is a relationship.  As you know if you’ve spent any time with me or my blog, that is high on my list of wants.  Right now, as much as I’d love to meet someone, I don’t have the money to spend on dates, or buying new clothes for dates.  But that is ok, because knowing myself as I do, it would be wrong to rush into finding someone, and people do always say it happens when you don’t expect it.  I can enjoy settling myself into my new life, and eyeing up the hot guys on the tube…

For now, life is good.  This chapter is still very new to me, and I’m very much finding my feet.  I’ve put on weight since my arrival, hence my desire to jog, and knowing that I won’t be able to afford to join a gym until possibly later in the year, I’m going to have to rely on my own resources and free exercise such as jogging and walking, in the tree-lined areas close to where I live and work.  By the end of September, I will have graduated from university, signaling the true end of the previous chapter of my life; potentially have secured a permanent job, and have made myself financially stable.  All the key ingredients for the basis of a happy life, on which I can build the foundations of the me I’ve wanted to become.  Please join me as the journey continues.  I’ve missed talking to you guys.

 

 

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 27

After yesterday’s blog, I came to realise that I’m not so great at writing when I’ve had a drink.  Whereas many a famous rock star has penned a best-selling single while drunk (or stoned), drinking (particularly wine) seems to only have the effect that it makes my writing rubbish.  My Life Coach, Jon, called me out on both Day 37  and yesterday’s blog, Day 28, noting that they weren’t quite up to the same standard as usual.  Both were written after a couple of glasses of wine, and while I do enjoy the odd glass (or two), I need to bear in mind that blog-writing should take place prior to wine-drinking…

With 27 days left til the end of this challenge, my full focus this week has been on finding a job.  Perhaps naively, I had imagined it would be easier to get a job than I thought.  So now I’m applying for as many jobs as I can.  While I’m determined not to have thrown away the last few years of my life, including finding the realisation that I want a job that I love, I am also aware that it may take time to find that job.  One thing I do want to do though, is to move to London, therefore I may need to take a job which I’m not too keen on in order to get moved sooner.

Although I haven’t had any interview requests so far, I am hopeful that there may be one or two on the horizon.  I had a reply from a recruitment company today after applying for a job that I could do with my eyes closed (having done a similar job for many years within the National Health Service).  They are “processing my application” and will be in touch.  At first, I was a little wary of this, because all I could think was that the job is less money than I was on before and it’s the only job I can get.  But then I changed my view: it’s with an international organisation, and this job would allow me to make my move south.  So we’ll see what happens.

It’s very important to me that I find a career that I love.  I’ve had little job satisfaction in the sixteen years and various job roles that I worked full-time, from the age of just 15.  If I could write this blog and get paid for it, that would make me happy.  But while that may take some time to happen, I’m going to have to find something else to do 9-5, to keep me going until I can get to that point.

I’m actually quite excited about the whole job-hunting (and preferably job-acquiring) journey.  When I quit my well-paid (for Lincolnshire) job in September 2011 to concentrate on my degree (only to suspend my studies three months later!), I didn’t think I would ever want to work again.  I did some temp work the following March to July, which was more for the money than anything else, as it wasn’t a job that I especially enjoyed.  But now, having 95% of my final year finally out of the way, I’m looking forward to getting back into the workplace, making new friends, and getting that all important payslip at the end of the month.

The last seven years has been about finding out who I am and what I want to do; where I want to be.  I know I don’t want a job that I dislike, but sometimes, as a good friend once kept telling me, “a little bit of suffering is necessary”.  I truly believe that, and so while my first job back in London may not be my dream job, it will be the one that keeps the smile on my face, because it means I’m finally on the path to that job I will love with all my heart.

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 43

I’m reluctantly typing this blog post before bed.  It’s not that I don’t want to do the blog, it’s just that my head hurts from drinking too much mulled wine.  Yes, I know it’s not Christmas.  But it was leftover from Christmas, or rather two Christmases ago, and we found ourselves dusting it off and cracking it open to accompany our lasagne, once the bottle of rose wine I’d taken home from Wetherspoons last night had been finished.

I have also been drinking water and coffee, so I’m hoping tomorrow won’t be too bad, but I already have a headache, so the signs aren’t good.  As long as I don’t see my dinner again, today will have finished a good day.

After the hiatus of the last few days, I managed to get my arse back in gear, and both applied for jobs and did some reading for my next assignment.  I can tell you’re impressed.

The job was somewhat of a surprise, and came through on one of the daily listings I receive.  After being told the other day that I need some publishing experience, I’ve started to think about how I could use the experience I have to help me towards where I want to be.  I have twelve years’ experience within NHS administration, and a total of 16 years’ admin experience, so why not try and use that medical experience to my advantage?

The job I’ve seen is a writing job, although still based within the health service.  I’m hoping I might have more chance of being shortlisted for a job like this, with the experience I have.

As well as applying for jobs, I’m headed down to my nation’s great capital next week, in a bid to do some research into jobs, housing and get a general feel for the place.  I’ve put feelers out to my friends down there to see them, and who knows, maybe I’ll make some new ones.

It’s funny, after making the decision not to go to China, I’m actually looking forward to going to London and spending some time on my own.  I remember how much independence I had when I lived there before, as a shy 19 year-old; I went to the movies by myself, swimming by myself, random walks, sightseeing.  You get the picture.

Anyway, I’m waffling now and I just remembered that my head hurts, so I’d best get some sleep.

 

The Twelve Week Challenge: Day 44

The eagle-eyed among you will notice that it is now Day 44, and haven’t we already had a Day 44?   Well as I  mentioned briefly yesterday, I’ve decided that since I’m now half-way through The Twelve-Week Challenge, that I would start counting down, towards the end, or rather the beginning, of the next chapter in my life.

The excitement of having my dissertation handed in has left me not really knowing what to do with myself, although tomorrow I won’t really have that problem as long as I make a start on my next assignment.  As I’ve mentioned already, having my handed dissertation in, while being a huge weight off, is an anti-climax when I have another four assignments to do before I can say goodbye student life.

This morning I decided I ought to get back onto the job search side of things, and called a publishing recruitment agency in London.  While the woman on the phone was polite, she told me there really wasn’t anything they could do for me without any publishing experience.  So I should seek out some work experience, then consider coming back.

I’m not sure I expected them to say anything else really, because I know that publishing is a very competitive industry.  One of my worries, over the last two years while at uni, was getting some “relevant work experience” and while I have done some extracurricular activities such as my radio work, I haven’t actually done any publishing experience.  While I have applied for work experience with some of the larger companies, I’ve never heard back from them.

After that, I did a search online for other, less specialised recruitment agencies, and got all over-excited about a PA job in Dubai.  Halfway through re-shaping my CV, I had to ask myself, do I really want a PA’s job?  While I love the idea of working in Dubai (23.5 degrees north of the equator!), when I think back to when I actually was a PA and…well…I hated it.  I realise I am not so good at organising somebody else, I’d much rather have a job where I can manage my own time and my workload.  If there’s one thing I learnt from working in London last time, it was that you shouldn’t do a job you hate.

I’m not talking about the job you do day-in, day-out, like the one I had in the NHS for so many years.  I’m talking about the job that really makes you so terribly unhappy, either because you hate the work, hate the company (or both), or because you know in your heart that actually you’re not so good at the job, and thus feel like a failure.  Having been, in my time, a hotel receptionist, a paralegal, a medical secretary and a customer service assistant (although I was told by the temp agency it was a data entry clerk), I realise that there’s no point in doing a job you don’t like, and I vowed never to do these jobs again.

The last time I worked in London was in 1997-8.  I didn’t even have a mobile phone, let alone the internet.  I remember one of my colleagues at the hotel where I worked was the first to get a phone; I used to ring my parents from the payphone across the street.  I had a nice collection of BT Phonecards at one point.  I worked in the hotel for nine months, before finally securing a job as a Paralegal for one of the big City law firms.  I’d been for endless job interviews, and finally got offered two jobs.  I chose the one working for the company with the big posh offices, although that was pointless since my office ended up being in the old part of the building anyway.  As a paralegal, I used to prepare documents, and take them to banks for signatures.  I don’t mean your average High Street branch, I mean real, investment banks.  I was basically a glorified delivery person.  And I hated it.

While my job was pants, I also rented a room from a woman in Brick Lane.  At first she was chatty but after a while she seemed to take to avoiding me.  It left me feeling really awkward, and I remember going to my room and crying after a horrible day at work and not feeling any happier once I arrived at home.

After spending a year living in London, which was the deadline I had given myself, I held my hands up in defeat, and made plans to come home.  My job was on a three-month probation, so it really wasn’t a problem for me to leave.  I had signed a six-month rental agreement at the flat too, but my landlord had no problem with me moving out after only four months.

I will never forget the conversation I had with the woman from HR.  She was asking me why I was leaving and I, of course, got upset and told her that I hated the job.  She asked me what I liked doing, and I told her that I enjoyed typing.  While in London, I’d gotten my Computer Keyboard Skills qualification from Pitman (the first, and last time, I ever got a distinction) and typing was the one thing I could do well, although as a Paralegal, I didn’t have too much typing to do.  She told me that I should have said, that they could have moved me to the typing pool.  But by that point, I’d made the decision to come home, and didn’t want to disappoint my parents by telling them I wasn’t coming back after all.  So I came home.  I did a few temp jobs before getting a permanent job with the NHS, where I worked for twelve and a half years.  I bought a house, got married, lost the house, got divorced (well, almost).  But I have always regretted leaving London.  I didn’t admit that for a long time, because it was as though I wasn’t grateful for what I’d found since I came back.  But really, I should never have come back.

My friend said to me today that I need to prepare for going to London this time, that I don’t want to have to come back if it doesn’t work out.  I agree that I need to prepare, but I won’t be coming back.  Except for visiting friends and family.  I don’t belong here, I have never belonged here.  If things don’t work out in London, then I shall head elsewhere (preferably somewhere closer to the Equator), but I won’t be coming back to Lincoln.  That much I know.

 

Urgent Request For Back-Up!

The last two months have reminded me of how fickle technology can be.  Right now, I can exchange messages with someone halfway across the world, I can publish my thoughts and feelings for everyone to read at the push of a button and I can research just about anything in seconds.  But technology does have its failures.  Anyone who has done an office job that involves use of a photocopier knows that the blasted things break down on at least a weekly basis.  If I could invent a photocopier that didn’t, I’d be a rich woman.

Back in December, I was on campus and decided to utilise some free time I had to work on an assignment.  Being efficient, which is not usually like me at all, I had a USB stick to hand so that I could save my work and take it home with me.  After spending a couple of hours working on the essay question, which troubled me anyway because I had struggled with my research for this particular question, I got out my USB stick yet could not find anywhere to, er, stick it.  Nothing on the monitor, nor the keyboard.  These were new computers, and the desktop boxes that used to be there were gone.  Eager to get the hell out of the library and get home, I saved a copy to the desktop and emailed it to myself.

Upon my return home, I had dinner then resumed with the question.  Around 11pm, I finally finished it, and with great delight, I took myself off to bed, safe in the knowledge that the next day all I had to do was to print it, and submit it to the Faculty Office.

The following morning I met a friend for coffee, and on the way home, since I had time, I decided to do some Christmas shopping.  Arriving home about an hour before I would need to leave to go deliver my paper, I was finally feeling the Christmas spirit.  Sadly, it would not last.

My completed assignment was nowhere to be found.  I had the first question, previously saved to my hard drive, but all that could be found of the second question was what I had done in the library, not the finalised piece of work, which composed of the rest of question two, merged with question one.  I called the IT Helpdesk, who, after some instruction, told me that it obviously was not saved.  After putting my head in my hands, I emailed my tutor to make him aware that I would miss the deadline.

What I realise, is that upon opening the email at home, I must not have saved a copy to my computer.  Schoolgirl error, that having been something that occurred many times, not just to myself but to others during the twelve years I worked for the National Health Service.  My tutor knew of the difficulties I have had with my depression and told me not to panic, that we would submit a form for Extenuating Circumstances in the New Year which would give me more time to re-do the assignment, leaving me free to concentrate on the remaining assignment due that week.

Before you ask, no, that piece of work could not be found!!  I had IT experts and all sorts of people suggesting places it may be, but it had vanished from the face of the earth.

So, at the back of my mind, I knew I would have to re-do the paper.  What I didn’t count on, however, was my external hard drive finally giving up the ghost last week, and losing all my documents from the last three years, including all my assignments, including those I did whilst studying abroad (which were some of my best work) and many pieces of my creative writing.

Compared to losing a couple of hundred words, I have now lost what I see to be my life’s work.  The IT helpdesk were able to retrieve some photos, music and videos, but no Word documents, with the exception of the iTunes User Agreement in about 19 different languages.  My hard drive is now with a friend, who is going to see if it is at all possible to retrieve any of my documents, although I take this to be a long shot, much like my application to the Fulbright Commission for a scholarship.  I can hope but right now I’m not expecting too much.

An email from my tutor today has confirmed that I will need to re-do the whole paper if I want to pass this class.  I have now gone from having to re-write a few hundred words to re-writing the entire paper.  Ironically entitled American Dreams, American Nightmares, its title is an ironic reminder of the complexity of life.  And perhaps a reminder that I should be grateful when things don’t go too horribly wrong.  Because, as I always used to say when I worked for the NHS, the one thing you can count on is that things can always get worse.