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"Working 9 to ..." oh maybe not....

It's fair to say the last few months have not been the best in some senses. There was at one point I declared the whole of March didn't happen, I stand by that.

On the whole the PhD has not been the main arbiter of doom for once. Well indirectly it has, in the sense of everything I do/don't do/could do is governed by the PhD, but in terms of direct causes of misery and angst it's input has been minimal. Comparatively, I mean the beast still gives good game in the misery stakes but hey ho. And anyway we're not allowed to talk about that here, not yet. It's time will come.

No, the main cause of issue was employment, and its various associations. Now anyone who knows me or knows this blog knows my ongoing battle with employment, so yes this is a bit PhD related. Trying to self fund a full time PhD is in itself, a full time job. Therein lies the problem. For the past 4 years I've supported myself through, it feels like every means necessary, aside from selling organs or outright prostitution . Some of my jobs have felt like outright prostitution. At this point I was juggling two evening jobs with working all day on the PhD. I felt like death most of the time and looking back, both my health and work were suffering. A full time admin job came up in one theatre, so I applied thinking it might be better the 9-5 life. And by some miracle (or later curse) I got the job.

So I took the job. I'd agonized over it. I turned down an interview for a really great job for it. I probably wouldn't have got the job, and the timing was all wrong but still. It was regular hours, it was decent, secure regular money. And I'd got to the point where I needed that.  I felt guilty and I felt I had to take that. So I took the job. It was fine. I was bored but I expected to be bored. The hardest part was in fact pretending I cared passionately about the job. I felt like I was hiding a guilty secret, that I was counting the months until I'd escape, PhD in hand to a better job. Or just you know escape at least. I felt I had to hide the PhD, that it would be used against me as it has been before. I needn't have worried I never got that far.

I decided if I was going to write this, I had to write it honestly. I won't name names but I will lay it all out honestly from my point of view. During the first week I was told 'read through the files on the system and familarise yourself with how we do things' this was practically all I was given to do, and the only instructions. So I started working my way through, making notes of questions, of things I found that didn't look right/things that were in the wrong place (there were many, believe me many issues) In the process, I  found a letter, not filed properly which when I looked at it (to see what it was/where it had to be) turned out to have the name of a friend on it. Figuring out what it was, I closed it (without reading it aside from gathering what it was from the name/title) and made a note on my long list of 'things I've found that need sorting'. Here I made a mistake, a silly thing generally yes, but I couldn't have guessed just how much of a mistake. I sent a text to the person in question 'just found your x letter lol' was the gist. It was intended as a joke, and more a way of having a little chat about my new job, followed by a text that was essentially 'well you know I'm nosy lol' (I don't really say lol a lot, but I'm using it for emphasis) Said friend replied with a 'lol' of their own and I went on with my day, assuming everything was fine.

Nearly a week later (yes a whole week)  I found myself getting fired for that text. Now I don't deny yes it was a bit of a daft thing to say. But it was a private exchange between friends. Friends who have a history of talking about work. Friends who have previously said far worse things about work in private exchanges. There's a lot more to it, in that someone else in the department seems to be under investigation for serious breaches of confidentiality, and that I seem to have been made an example of. That generally the department (and the company) is not a shining example of best practice. I was kicked out of the job with no investigation, no fair hearing and no attempt at investigation. In hindsight I don't care. I'm glad I found out after just a week what kind of environment I was working in; one where payoffs have been made to staff where it suits the company, one where people are forced to go off sick with stress due to the treatment they've received and one where a fair hearing only happens if your face fits (or your manager plays by the rules)

But in all that, in all the anger against the organisation I sat bewildered, because this has come out of a friendship. Or a betrayal of the friendship. The friend and I talked, and I believed their story as told, to a degree at least. I don't think the intention was to get me fired, I really don't. But that's still what happened, and it still hurts. I don't know the motivations behind what happened (for all parties involved) I do know that we had a grown up discussion about it, which I respect a great deal. Initially I accepted all the explanations at face value, of course the more you reflect on things, the more holes in stories, or further questions arise. In the scheme of things how much does it really matter? I'm able to forgive, I have forgiven. Trust is another matter entirely. However, it's now been nearly 2 months and I've not heard from that person since. Maybe that tells me all I need to know. I don't know. Either way I've moved on, and what will be will be. (que sera sera or something) It's sad, it's very sad but my world won't end,  and it wasn't destroyed from losing this job, far from it.

Likewise, in situations like this you find out who your real friends are. Those who were there on the day, who phoned me, who texted or emailed. Not just that day but in the weeks following. Who still check in that everything's ok, or ask if anything more came of it. Those people care, those people I trust. And there are more than enough of them. I'm so grateful to those who listened, who emailed, who talked sense into me when I needed it. In the wisest words of my trans-Atlantic twin 'Making friends as a grown up is hard, but these people are bad news' I intend to print out and put on my wall.

It also helps to find out what you really thought of the work you were doing. The next day, after I got fired,  I emailed my old boss, asking if he needed any help in the upcoming busy exam period, on the off chance. He nearly bit my arm of for help as they are always busy. However what he showed me in the next week or so, is what an employer who values your contribution can be. I've not been so happy to go to work in a long time. And I truly love that job. It's not going to give me financial security, but it gives me a bit. It also gives me a sense of being able to do a good and valued job. Something that's been missing for a long time. I'm not built for a 9-5, of "yes sir, no sir" culture. I'm built for doing what's needed to get the job done, for working whenever whatever is needed. Above all for a job that feels like you actually did something today.

Following all of this a friend and former colleague who is a few years ahead of my in PhD completion and academic career gave me the best advice I've had in a while. She told me to stop work, to stop looking for work and just finish the PhD. And as scary as it is, that is the best advice. And that's what I'm doing, with the help of my Mum. I did take my old support worker job back, for a few hours here and there, but generally it's just me and the PhD. And we might, might just be getting somewhere.

A friend told me last week how much better I seem, that even in talking about my PhD I seem calmer, happier. It might be just offloading those jobs, it might be that in offloading those jobs I moved away from an environment that was just doing me no good at all as well. Make of that what you will.

Maybe, if I may finish with a cliche, it's true, sometimes you don't get what you want (because what I wanted was a job that would let me go to New York and play with my Trans-Atlantic twin, and Alan Cumming) What I got, is a chance to finish this damn PhD once and for all, what I got was freedom from a job and environment that was doing me no good at all.


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