As I type this, I’m officially unemployed. I finished working as media and communications manager at Northwards Housing two weeks ago. I start my new job at Wigan Council tomorrow. For two weeks, I’ve not had a job to think about, no emails to check. No work to do whatsoever. It’s been fabulous and has given me a totally new perspective on things. I thought it would be interesting to share the four most important things I’ve learnt in those two weeks.
1. Take the long view
In my last two or three weeks at Northwards, I was doing a bit of prep for my handover to the next person to fill my shoes (if you are reading this, successful candidate, then I’ve done you a fabulous PDF full of fun things…)
I really wanted to make life easier for the team so I was working all hours to get the job done (see item 3 on resting below). One of the ways I tried to do this was by clearing out some space on our shared drive, so that the next person didn’t have to navigate my less-than-advanced filing system.
Sometimes, life in communications can feel like wading through treacle. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, another hurdle presents itself. So it’s hard to take the long view. But what was great about doing a handover is that you get to honestly and fairly document your own performance. This is where we were, this is where we are now. I’d found notes from conferences when we first floated the idea of behaviour change – it’s now a central tenet of the job. Or things I wanted to look into which ended up getting done. And getting done well.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to honestly appraise what you’ve accomplished, with the help of an amazing team. I’m going to try really hard to make a point of taking time out once a month to evaluate what has been achieved.
2. Human interactions matter
Every day, I drove to work via the same route – from Salford to north Manchester via a road with many Jewish primary schools dotted along its edges. A female security guard was stationed outside one of those schools (the fact that Jewish schools need security guards is shocking and scary and probably something for another post…). Anyway, as I drove past on my journey, the lady would always give me a smile and a wave.
It was such a small thing. But that wave always made me feel better. If I’d been stuck in traffic or was tired after a late night, it would lift my spirits. It meant something to me and I always waved back. On my penultimate day, I realised I wouldn’t see that lady again – my new job takes me to a totally different part of Greater Manchester. So I bought her a small box of chocolates to say thanks. In turn, the lady was really grateful to me for saying thanks, and we ended up in a virtuous circle of gratitude.
What that experience taught me is that human interactions matter. When we are all captivated by our phones and our digital worlds, we risk forgetting to look up and see real people. A smile on the way to the coffee machine, a kind word to break the awkward silence in the lift. We might never know how important those things are to those around us. I’ve always tried to be friendly and warm but this experience strengthened my resolve to make human interactions count.
3. Rest is super important for battery recharging
As I was on my way to my work leaving do, I deleted my Northwards email account from my phone. What I experienced next was a clusterf**k of emotions (who knew the power of an email account…). First, I felt completely liberated, two stone lighter, immediately relieved of any responsibility. No emails to check, no social media feeds to monitor. No work to do.
Then the reality of that hits. ‘No work to do?!’ How the hell am I going to cope for two whole weeks?! I didn’t even have two weeks off for my honeymoon!’
I first started working when I was 13. I had a job as a Saturday girl in a local department store. I’ve been employed pretty much ever since. I’ve had some good jobs (working part time in Waterstones) and some terrible jobs (my two weeks as a chugger were not my finest) but I’ve always worked. And in recent years, I’ve been extremely lucky to have jobs that I’ve absolutely loved. That’s been brilliant, but it’s also been hard to step away. Between the love of the job and the easy access to it that technology can bring, I’ve found it really hard to switch off.
That’s why this break was so important. I’ve had such a wonderful two weeks. I’ve been all over the UK and Ireland, spending time with my closest friends and family members. I’ve had important, life-affirming chats. My friends have provided much-needed counsel and above all, laughter. I marvelled at beautiful landscapes, walked along miles of coastline, ate and drank far too much. I did some exercise too, read books, had little afternoon kips.
And now I’m ready to start my next challenge. I’m glad I took those two weeks off, I feel energised and ready to go. I’m always going to work hard – I get a buzz from achievement and I love what I do. But I’m going to try to remember that when I’m not working, I’ll feel better by spending time with the people I love.
4. You are better than you think you are
I’ve made no secret that I’ve been afflicted by anxiety for some years. I’ve done a lot and achieved a lot, but somehow I always end up criticising myself for not being good enough. Some might call that Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know if my version of it has a name and I’m uncomfortable trying to put it in a box with a label. But there are times when it can feel scary and overwhelming.
What’s interesting about leaving a job is that you get to see yourself how others see you. As I said above, you get to evaluate what you’ve achieved. In four years at Northwards, we achieved a lot and I’m proud of my part in that. I’m proud that I helped develop our team; I’m proud of the connections I made; I’m proud that I made a difference. I wish I’d felt like that more often, instead of getting cross with myself for not ticking every item off my to-do list on any given day.
I worried for so long that I wasn’t doing it right. And actually, I was doing a pretty good job.
And when I left, lots of people said some really nice things. Admittedly, it was unlikely anyone would write ‘Good riddance’ on my leaving card. But people were really nice about me and said they would miss me. I saw myself through their eyes – a smiling, friendly, steely presence. And it felt nice.
So one of things I’m going to try to do in my new job is leave some of that baggage behind and start afresh.
Here’s to new beginnings