When you try your best, but don't succeed
To make sense of my career changing events of the last week or so, I imagined meeting myself at the CCH Melbourne networking drinks on 13 May and answering some questions I might have after not seeing me there for 18 months. Here’s how I imagine this conversation would go.
Where have you been all this time?
I decided that I needed a break from Change management and how it was being practiced. I wanted to find out if working with my hands was a better career option for me. After two workplaces and a year of TAFE I realised that the mature age apprentice life is definitely not for me.
What made you quit?
In hindsight it was two big things that were made worse by smaller things. Big thing one was that I had interviewed way too well and got a reference that was so glowing that people all around Torquay had to shut their blinds for 3 days. I could simply not live up to that, despite my best efforts. Big thing two is that I was arguably the worst apprentice ever. My work ethic is beyond compare, but I consider myself too old for most BS that a teenager will put up with. Add to this that my last boss and I have very similar personalities and we brought out the worst in each other by just being ourselves. Being told that I needed to get my sh*t sorted (and fast) while I was trying to explain that I wasn’t sure if this was the life for me, sealed the deal for me. It was also the first time that after six months I was still the least performing person on a team of legends. After a while I got the sense that mistakes were no longer acceptable and that I was simply not good enough to keep around. Life’s too short for that and the team deserves better, so off I went. That’s my version of events, a story with an okay ending and no heroes or villains.
Has it changed you in meaningful ways?
I sure hope so. It would be quite depressing if 18 months of being in a completely different environment, doing very, very different things would leave me unchanged. My patience has improved at least 5-fold! But before you get excited, that’s from 2% to 10%, so let’s hold off on the celebration just yet. I am less confident than I used to be and I like to think I am a bit more easy-going, less intense. People often mistake my intensity for passion, but it’s really just frustration with the way things are, voiced in a pleasant and sometimes amusing way.
What was the best thing about it?
So many things! Every day is different, new places to go, things to do, furniture to finish and offcuts to set on fire. What’s not to love?! I got to work with truly talented people and make beautiful things that people want to own and sometimes designed themselves. The trade took me all around Melbourne when lockdowns 1,2 and 3 happened and kept me working and learning when so many others had the roughest of times. I’ve visited many schools, businesses, the poshest of homes and lots of other strange and wonderful places that Change never took me. On top of that I now have a full kit of tools that I know how to use if I ever want to make an okay-ish piece of furniture. And that’s not even mentioning the hundreds of hours of podcast on science and history I could listen to while working in an ‘office’ with the best view and coolest workshop dogs ever. Good times indeed.
What was the worst about it?
TAFE, without a doubt. Imagine a kitchen where 16 incompetent young people (and old me) are cooking a somewhat specified meal, using the same tools, pots, pans and the same space, with little to no instruction and guidance and everyone can stir pots, change the temperature of the oven and mix up ingredients. That’s not a meal you’d serve anyone. Most of the teachers were masters of their craft but the system itself is beyond repair and caused so much frustration that I was looking forward to leaving by the time I walked in. I also didn’t enjoy feeling incompetent for months on end. Apparently, that’s part of the process, which makes me feel that the process is in serious trouble. I figured I’d feel more competent, skilled and trusted as months went by, but the exact opposite was true for me. Perhaps it was one of those: “once you know how little you know, it’s hard to remain confident about what you do know” kind of situations. I’ve been known to be my own worst enemy…
What did you learn?
So many things! Probably the most important thing was to not drill into my hand! Not only does it hurt quite a bit while it heals, it also really freaks people out. Their screaming is a lot worse than the blood. Another thing I learned is that it feels better to work pro bono than for minimum wage. I always had respect for people doing hard work for minimum wage, now that I’ve experienced it myself, that respect has at least doubled. Another key learning was that almost every mistake can be fixed if you have enough time. Also, sometimes IKEA is easier, faster and almost always cheaper than making it yourself from scratch.
No, it was totally worth it, even though I would not recommend this kind of career change to just anyone and probably never do it again myself. Despite having failed in what I set out to do, the experience of stepping away from Change and fully committing to a completely new trade gave me some much-needed perspective and helped me regain creativity I didn’t even know I had lost.
Did you miss the Change Community? Even a little bit?
I missed the people and conversations a lot, for sure. But LinkedIn and Twitter kept me connected to long-time Change friends and in the loop on the big things. With 2020 being the social and professional dumpster fire it was for so many, I feel like this was the best year to take a break. For once, my timing was spot on! I’m not saying that nothing has changed in Change, but now that the roar of lockdown terror, vaccine anger and all the posts on making sense of a post-COVID world have subsided a bit, I think we’re once again hearing all those good ideas and new initiatives that got drowned out before. So much new ideas to look forward to!
You’re here tonight, does that mean you’re back to doing Change work?
Short answer, yes. If the right challenge comes along; I’ll jump on it to get back into things. Longer answer: I’m not sure if I want to. From what I’ve seen from 20 minutes on job boards, the change job market is as mercenary as it’s always been. I’ve got a few things I am working on with Purpose at Work in board advisory on quality and safeguarding and if things go well, I’ll be creating a whole new toolkit on purposeful practices in disability, aged and social care. I am also looking forward to the third round of Change Tools Masterclasses for Deakin. I still prefer short term, complex and hard to solve challenges and I think everyone is better of if I am my own boss moving forward.
Good to see you again, I hope the community welcomes you back with their usual enthusiasm!
Thanks for the chat, I enjoy being back and look forward to finding out what people have been up to.