Entry 03: Metamorphosis
I used to have a commute that was 84 minutes door to door. I would get on to the number 42 bus, then take three different tube lines to some new outpost of Hammersmith. There was nothing but offices. I would get off. Everybody would get off. My shoes would turn- Everybody’s shoes would turn down one street towards the skyscrapers geometric jut. They were grey and glassy and impersonal.
A stampede of shoes would pour in through the entrances, swiping cards, crowding elevators.
And I couldn’t stand it. I hated turning my shoes in with the other shoes. If I’d wanted to march, I would have joined the army. If I’d wanted to flock, I would have joined an organised religion. What I wanted was to work. But not like this.
I was not the best of Worker Bees.
I was late all the time and I’m not even sure if I was good at my job. I was probably ok. Do big companies need brilliance, or just a turning cog? If what they needed was a turning cog, then I was sticking in the machinery. I would veer, almost unconsciously, away from the herd. I would take unnecessary turns down alleyways and get lost and slip in the rotting leaves on the pavement and tear my tights.
I know – like everybody else knows – that big companies don’t care about you. No matter what slogan their HR department is pushing that month. And despite all those activists waving their data about happy staff make productive staff, I don’t really believe corporations have a duty of care to you. I am harsh like that.
I did think small companies might care. Because they have small teams, because of camaraderie, and shared interests and other yadda yadda. Soon I found out that they don’t much care either. Small companies are more panicky about profit. They push you harder. I don’t even blame them. They need to feed themselves, they need to grow, and their staff are the fuel on which they can get fat. I can accept this, even if I don’t like it. I am fair like that.
I don’t know what makes some people so good at the 9-5 thing, and others not. All I know is I wasn’t particularly impressed to find I was one of the ‘other’s not’. On a bad day I would see this as a slovenly and inadequate, almost shameful flaw. On a good day I would be exhilarated by my rebellious streak. Regardless of what I thought, it didn’t take away from the fundamental fact that I was not the best of worker bees.
Alright, so let’s see where we’re at. Working for a big company crushes the life out of you with its processes and its systems. Working for a small company crushes you under the weight of responsibility. Working for myself seemed to be the obvious answer to my riddle. Consume the royal jelly and shed the fibres of my wax cocoon.
But… what if working for yourself goes really well? What if you earn nicely, and your risks pay off, and your clients appreciate you? Then you’ve got to hire other people to help manage the workload. The tables turn. The employee becomes the employer.
I figured that when I was running my own company, I wouldn’t be cross with the people who came in late with ripped tights. I would be kind to people who were only there because they needed money to eat, and not because they loved my ideas. I wouldn’t overload anyone with projects beyond their capacity or keep people late who wanted to go out drinking, as is their right.
It never works out how you imagine. Your position shifts. I thought the people with ripped tights were mucky, the ones who didn’t love my ideas were traitors, the ones who didn’t finish their projects were lazy, and the ones who went out drinking were irresponsible.
These days, ‘the hustle’, the ‘girl boss’ and the ‘side-preneur’ are becoming fast discredited concepts. Instead of over-working, people advocate slower living. Less rat race, more virtue. Well, it sounds nice. But working for a fancy big-name company sounded just as good 10 years ago. Be wary of what the world tries to make you do. Of who they make you be. It was only recently that I thought my boss was the devil… until I crossed over.