Thinking back through my employment history (stretching back just over ten-years now, including part-time work), I’ve not really had one job that I can say I’ve truly enjoyed. I try not to make a secret of the fact that I dislike the job I’m in at the moment (except for when I’m in work) and, although I like to think that I’d be ‘happier’ doing something else, well, I’ve worked in other places and, even when I have my ‘good’ days, I’ve never truly been able to say that I’ve enjoyed a single job that I’ve had.
In this post, I’m going to try and talk briefly about my work history, in the hope of recognising and understanding any signs and symptoms of anxiety, so that I can aim to improve my current life and my future.
My very first job (which came about late in to the first-year of my A-Levels) was a direct, customer-facing role. But away from a desk or confined office space; we had an air of ‘freedom’ to roam the yard and the fresh air (in all seasons and weather conditions) to help customers find what they’re looking for, load up with materials and products and to head off home (or back to work) with total satisfaction.
I was an extremely shy person at this time and couldn’t bear the thought of being in such a role. After several interviews around Bristol that never resulted in anything more than a disappointing call back (some didn’t even bother and I had to get mum to phone them), it was through my dad’s assistance and contacts that I filled this vacancy only one-mile down the road from where I was living at the time. This meant I could cycle to and from work each day (less so in winter); giving me a sense of independence. I made a lot of mistakes early on (charging customers incorrectly, etc.) and generally misunderstood even the simplest of instructions at times, with so much fear and paranoia going through my mind when any pair of eyes was near. I do honestly believe that, if not for my dad’s relationship (business) with the managing director, I wouldn’t have lasted for long in that role. I could tell that my immediate superior was frustrated with me. He didn’t have to say anything as such; it was in the tone of his voice and his mannerisms towards me.
Several months later though, I kind of grew in to the role. I didn’t ‘chat’ as much to customers like my colleagues but earned respect (amongst all) as someone who had spatial awareness, efficiency and just generally getting on with the job (tradesmen seemed to respect that the most, I thought, as their time is also their own money). After my first summer, a couple of co-workers revealed that the never thought I’d make it… Yet, I’d become a bit of a ‘favourite’ in the eyes of those who stood above me. I wasn’t the centre of attention and certainly not the first to start a conversation but, I’d found a sense of self-confidence that had encouraged me to feel as though life may not be so bad outside of my shell.
After four-years and so very cold, wet, unpleasant winters in that job, I was tired, bored and feeling as though, as times, people were deliberately taking advantage of my hard-working nature. Picking and choosing the ‘easy’ customers, sneaking off for extra fag breaks; all because they knew that I would never fight or bite back. Maybe that’s why I’d begun to hate this job so much? It really wasn’t that bad in the summer and I didn’t need to go abroad to get a sun tan! Were my own feelings of suppression and frustration taking their toll?
This job had part-inspired me to enrol on a related course at college, after dropping out of my A-Levels in Year 12 (another tale for another day). By now, I’d almost completed my three-years at college and I found another local vacancy with a tradesman working in the field I’d been studying. This was my escape; a chance to redeem and reinvent myself as someone on a new road to better days! Sadly, I was in that job for less than eight-weeks. I made some horrendously simple mistakes in my first few days (‘schoolboy’ errors) and my employer always held on to this in his mind, I believe. I also felt a lot of stress and tension from this man; he never came across as calm but, I guess that’s one of the risks involved in being self-employed. I was often on the receiving end of his abuse, which I was recently told (in counselling) is actually verbal bullying – apparently, I could even have taken him to court for it!
Going in every day and doing your best is one thing… But then, to be told that you’re “useless” and “want shooting“… To suffer that every single day, it truly is soul destroying. I cried when he sacked me, even though I knew the day was coming. It wasn’t so much the fear of unemployment and I felt no relief. I was stuck in that hole where the walls are too high and the light’s disappearing.
What really hurt was that he would accuse me of “not being aware” of what’s going on around me. My own paranoia and edginess has always convinced me that I’m far more aware of my surrounding than the average person. I received these same accusations in my next job as well. But, a secret fear of moving or changing something (physically) during a process in case someone happens to spot what I’m doing and question it… Well, it’s very hard for other people to see it that way. I was always like that; afraid. Always asking for instruction, reassurance and direction, even though I had the knowledge and knew the answers in my mind. I didn’t trust myself.
With my self-esteem so low, I wasn’t thinking straight by this time. College had finished and I felt as though I had ‘nothing’ in my life again. I needed to find a job; I just didn’t know how to go about it (if only I’d realised the pain-painstakingly obvious and just turned to the internet, as I often do now). My dad was very insistent that I should go back to the company I previously worked for but in a different role and department – one of the other manager’s had previously expressed an interest in giving me this opportunity before. To be honest, I always felt that the quality of work was ‘below me’, although fairly relevant to what I had spent the previous three-years studying.
As you can probably imagine, I ended up working there. It was so strange going back and quite awkward, having to confront everyone I’d said ‘goodbye’ to only two-months earlier; walking past my former colleagues and growing closer to those I didn’t know before. Within my first week, I knew that it wasn’t for me. Although I again enjoyed some of the physical aspects of the work, this environment was deeply depressing. Dark, un-painted walls, poor lighting, insufficient space and the local troll – a bitter and twisted individual (well in to his 60s) who moans about everyone and everything, demands it all but never expresses gratitude and has the narcissistic audacity to go behind your back and spite you directly to your superiors. One colleague referred to him as an “atmosphere vacuum“; no-one really enjoyed working with or close to him. When I first started down there, I was willing to believe that he wasn’t actually that bad but, within two-weeks, I’d realised the truth in what I’d been hearing for over four-years.
Twelve-months in to the job and I was already plotting my ‘escape’ (I talked about this recently in part of another post). After Christmas and, one of my lowest spells of depression, I didn’t go back. I was at college again, twice a week, which kept me active some of the time but I would end up spending more than two-and-a-half-years in the wilderness of unemployment, right at the very start of this long-running Recession. I’d decided to give myself a couple of months ‘off’ at first (I had more than £10,000 in the bank and was living at home) before I began my search. Without thinking of the JobCentre, I resumed contacting local tradesmen in the same field as before. Deep down, I still felt as though I didn’t want to be in this line of work and would be doing ‘something else’. One man tried to phone me twice after receiving my CV, even leaving a voicemail message each time. I ignored both calls and couldn’t face phoning him back.
A few months later, I finally gave in and ‘signed on’. Not so much for the money (although I was spending) but, to help me find a new job, amongst new surroundings and hopefully to steer my life in to a new direction. They were so insistent on pushing me towards the sort of jobs that I feared (like bar work, being face-to-face in a close environment with alcohol, which I don’t drink) that I very nearly lost my Jobseeker’s allowance for failing to follow up on their leads. I was insistent on applying for jobs where I could ‘hide away’ (typically warehousing and manual work) and that’s the main reason I was able to keep it going. I had to stop claiming each time I returned to college anyway, as my course was classed as full-time.
Eventually, I was offered a job working in a chilled warehouse with a shift pattern. Sometimes, I’d start at 6am (which did mean I could finish at 2pm, which was nice). Other times, I’d work from 14.00-22.00. Lie-ins are nice (especially in winter) but, you end up ‘wasting’ the day and anxiously just waiting for each shift to start each morning.
It was a cleaning role but I can’t remember meeting anyone that I didn’t like. In time, I earned the respect and trust of others, did my job to a high standard and gained the respect of the shift managers. My employers were based up in Birmingham (like an agency) and this made things unnecessarily complicated at times. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye and my fellow cleaners often felt as though our voices weren’t being heard, even when we needed the most basic of supplies. After Christmas, I received a verbal warning (our conversation was recorded in writing) for refusing to work both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day on only £6.50 an hour (no overtime) so, it’s fair to say that our relationship didn’t improve after that.
Two months later, I found a new job working as a baggage handler and, again, on a varying shift pattern. As an agency worker though, it was very much on an ‘as and when required‘ basis. So, in hope of that extra £1-an-hour over my last job, I spent too much time just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. My anxiety grew (I’d not long moved out in to renting my own place) and, even when they did call, I didn’t always want to speak to them. I might get a ten-hour night shift with only three-hours notice or, for three consecutive days, I as offered the 4-8am shift (really not worth getting out of bed for!). We were employed on a ‘zero-hours’ contract with absolutely no guarantees. I overslept and missed a few of the early starts; deliberately, at first but, in one week where I suffered with diarrhea and sickness, they didn’t want to know and threatened to let me go.
I always found it difficult working at the airport. Going through the security checks at the start of each shift was intimidating (I often forgot to remove my belt and had to be searched when the alarm went off). At the induction, we weren’t informed that the security desk/gate closes between 21.00 and 4.30am. So, I was very impolitely told to go elsewhere by the cheer-less security guards on more than one occasion, with nights shifts starting at 22.00. That didn’t help my self-esteem and meant I had to walk around to the terminal (ten minutes) and then, once airside, walk around to the duty manager’s office to sign in (thirty minutes in all!). Because of the way I was spoken to my some of the security officers, I couldn’t face staying for two of my night shifts. I payed the parking fee, got back in my car and drove off!
But, I didn’t go straight home, as I feared my landlord would take an interest. One night, I went for a drive around Bristol (I did need more fuel…) and ended up stopping in several rural locations. Once to use the toilet; at other times, just to lie back and sleep. I had food with me and would frequently moved from one car park to the next after two or three hours (partly because I couldn’t sleep). Worst of all, I still got payed for each shift and the agency never questioned my absence!
This is the first time I’ve shared that with anyone so, you all are the very first to hear of this secret! 🙂
That was back in May of last year, when the evenings certainly could’ve been a bit warmer. At the end of that month (and, with my employer’s patience running thin), I was fortunate to be offered a full-time job (normal hours) working for another local firm, in a role that’s again relevant to what I studied at college.
I’m still there now and, although I can get in to some jobs and I’ve made it this far, I’m already having thoughts of repeating history and walking out this Christmas… I look around at what else is available but the money is not any better. This job frustrates me. I am more than capable of completing the work to a high standard but, it isn’t required. They’re more concerned with ‘efficiency’ and getting jobs out of the door. As a bit of a ‘perfectionist’, I find this very frustrating, as one of the few previously-skilled employees on their books. Plus, we start at 7am and, I’ve never been a morning person! We get Friday afternoons off but, as the wages aren’t great, I end up working ten-hours most days in order to compensate for this with the extra overtime hours.
Working with people who are generally twice your age is difficult, I find. What bothers me most about the people I’m working with is their attitude to the job. Every job we complete has a set time limit in which it must be completed. Some are highly generous, others don’t give you nearly enough time. Some of these people have been in the job for far too long (over ten-years) and, as a way of ‘getting their own back‘ for the poor wages and lack of bonus payments, they deliberately work slowly and waste as much time on each job as possible. If they’re given 30 hours but can do it in 20, well, they’re not going to sign off before they’ve reached 29 hours! Again, it is frustrating and completely the wrong attitude. If only they’d work harder, we’d see an improvement in the annual bonus and could even push the company for a reasonable pay rise. But no, they’re too set in their ways; too bitter and, I really hate being a part of it. Especially when a supervisor tells me that I was ‘too fast’ on that last job!
This is where I am at the moment. To be honest, it feels like a place and state I’ve been living in for too long. I’m never comfortable in a job and, although I can get along well with most people, it’s rare that I ever look forward to waking up on a weekday morning and heading off to work. I’m amazed that I’ve only over-slept and arrived late on the one occasion – working in the chilled warehouse, I did this too often; once arriving two-and-a-half hours late!!
I’ve had some negative experiences in my employment history and I’m sure I dwell on some of them too much, particularly the ones involving direct social contact. There probably is an air of anxiety behind my despair at the thought of going to work each day (I also hate the routine and lack of balance in every day life) but, I genuinely would like to push myself to try something different. Even another customer-facing role, working in a retail store, for example. I know I have time to find and work towards my one career. Hmmmm… I’ll keep looking as I feel it could be time for a change! 🙂
Thanks for reading.