Friday, 24 October 2014

In Which I Admit I Talk To Myself

It's all about spinning plates.

It is also, confusingly enough, about knowing when to stop spinning plates.

I'm a quitter by nature. It's a part of my character I've grown to dislike, which in turn has given me a dislike of quitting – which sounds great and all, but I know from experience that it's very easy to become overwhelmed. Our circumstances and responsibilities are constantly changing, and unless you're able to make that call and drop the less important or relevant responsibilities, you'll soon end up with more plates in the air than you can handle.

How do you make that call, though? I mean, sometimes activities and hobbies are important precisely because they're not important – that is, we have to have our down-time. We have to have a little time in the day when we can put it all aside, and just do something for the pleasure of it.

    Otherwise you pay out the nose for a bathroom re-fit and someone
ends up frozen to death in a hugely-elaborate hedge maze. 

Other times you will have to be callous and calculating, put sentiment to one side, and really weigh the value of the things you spend your time on. Habits are, by their nature, things we do without thinking, but it is important to take stock occasionally - to ask yourself if you're still getting from your routine whatever it is you used to get that made it habit-forming in the first place, to ask if the money spent and time invested could be put to better use in the future.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I'll be restructuring The Grown-Up Game once again. I've been in two minds over this, as it's not so long ago that I tried shaking things up the first time. Am I giving up too early? I thought; perhaps I need to stick it out.

But if it's not working, it's not working, I'd respond, and I don't think it is. It shouldn't make too much of a difference on your end – it's really more internal stuff: developing a clearer structure; greater breadth of content; articulating my aims; that sort of jazz. Regardless, consider yourselves warned.

Until next week! 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Workin' Nine To Fiii-iiiiive...

There's satisfaction in a job well done.

I've had fantastic jobs – I once worked in Waterstones, and spent almost half of my first pay cheque on the books I'd spent all day shelving – I've had truly shitty jobs, and I've had mediocre jobs; I've worked shifts of all hours, in teams and departments of various sizes; I've done part-time, seasonal, and full-time work.

Throughout it all, I've found it to be true, that there's satisfaction in a job well done.

It's easy to forget that when you've been out of work for a while. It's easy to wonder why you're going to such lengths to find a job at all. So, this week's update is just a quick one, a little reminder:

It's gratifying to be good at something. A job can mean more than money in the bank. Job-hunting is banal and dispiriting, but there is a point to it, and it is worth it. Hard as it can be, don't forget that.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Stop Me If You've Heard This One...

Every day a man returns home from work. He steps through the door, shrugs out of his jacket, and hangs it by the phone. Next he removes first one shoe, drops it to the floor, removes the second, drops it also, and collapses on the sofa. This goes on – day in, day out – until, one day, there's a hammering on his door. He opens it to find his downstairs neighbour standing there, irate.

“Christ, mate!” cries the neighbour, “every day! You want to stop dropping your bleeding shoes on my ceiling?”

I'm sorry!” apologises the man. He agrees to be more careful in the future and, somewhat mollified, the neighbour departs.

Over the next couple of days the man makes an effort to be more considerate, but one Friday he returns home exhausted and, unthinking, drops one shoe to the floor. Cursing, he places the second shoe down and settles down to watch an evening's TV... until, an hour later, “I can't take it any more!” an anguished voice cries, “just drop the other one already!”

My new job has been going so well, that's kind of how I'm feeling: just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm torn; on the one hand, the longer things continue to go smoothly, the more convinced the cynic in me is that karma is gearing up for one massive boot to the nuts...

There's a Molly Ringwald gif for every emotion

… But on the other, there is an increasingly persistent little voice that insists I just don't know a good thing when I've got it. On reflection, that's probably true.

The obvious example would be all those extra-curriculars I never bothered with. Ok, so no one would really expect a kid to spend much longer at school than they had to, but a Uni student? I've given myself a right mental drubbing for all those excellent opportunities I utterly failed to take advantage of. I can't explain it, except to say that I always sort of thought I'd get around to them eventually – and in the mean time, focused my energies on bitching about morning lectures and encroaching deadlines.

You see it in people's relationships sometimes, too. TV and films teach us that a truly historic relationship is a fraught, star-crossed affair, which makes for great watching, sure – but you've got to wonder just how much of the drama in a couple's life is genuine, and how much put on, because we're taught good things don't come easily.

My life has been fairly average – some people have had it harder, some easier – but even so, I wonder: have I learned to expect problems so frequently that now, when I finally catch a break, I go about creating my own? Just how much time and energy could be better spent if I could see a good thing for what it was, instead of the prelude to a karmic gut-punch?

Friday, 3 October 2014

I Preferred Her First Album, But You've Probably Never Heard Of It

I think Taylor Swift might be my power animal.

I've been putting off checking the comments on my final university project for almost four months now. Earlier this week I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet but, even then, I had to listen to “Shake It Off” on repeat several times before I worked up the nerve.

Like, what if they'd said something mean?

Turns out, I was worrying about nothing. The comments were largely positive, and I came away from the computer feeling I had an achievable tick-list of things to work on, rather than the obituary of any authorial aspirations I may once have cherished.

And – as is so often the case in the life of a serial procrastinator – that got me to thinking.

It was no great shock to realise I've chickened out of taking potentially-beneficial chances in the past – but just how often? And was staying in my cowardy-custard comfort zone ever worth it?

Terry Crews has an interesting take on fear. The way he has it, fear is good – fear lets you know you're doing something new, something unfamiliar, and only by embracing the exotic do we grow and develop as individuals. I never thought I'd say this, but I agree with Cheeseburger Eddie.

Job interviews scare me. Approaching girls scares me. The risk of failing, or of making a tit of myself, scares me. Clowns scare me, too, but that's terra I'm happy to leave incognita. Anyway, the point is that all these things that scare me, these are things that simply have to be faced if I don't want to end up a bit of a Norman Bates, frontiers I have to explore if I want to move out of the ol' homestead.

And, much like Jack Sparrow, fear can be our magic compass, pointing towards our heart's desires (also like Jack Sparrow, my internal compass often points towards the rum, because is there anything less intimidating and more reassuring than fine, fine rum?). Generally speaking – and apply some common sense here, folks – I'm finding that the more scared I am to take a chance, the more beneficial it's likely to be.

If you still need a little push to actually go for it, imagine trying to explain why you chickened out to Ernest Hemingway – and if that doesn't do it, it's gonna take more than my inane wittering to sort you out.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure those risks and gambles would ever have paid off and, even had they, where I might be now. At least I would know, though. No more 'what-ifs' or 'where-coulds'. Wouldn't that be nice? There'd be no more wondering anymore and, wondering being my bread and butter – self-confessed serial procrastinator, remember – maybe I'd actually get shit done that way. Plus, I'd have a hell of a lot more funny stories to tell on nights out.

It'd be nice to tell funny stories on a night out, instead of becoming one.  


Starting next week (last week, technically, but I dropped the ball today) The Grown-Up Game will be updating bright and early Friday mornings, and don't forget that The Charity Shop Book Review will be updating on the second Tuesday of the month - the 14th - as it always does. This month I'll spend a great deal of time discussing zombies, despite the reviewed book not containing a single example of the ambulatory deceased. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Seriously, They Smell Like Vanilla

I've always had tastes that exceed my means.

I spent more time than I care to admit researching tailored shirts this week. Y'see, I have quite a thick neck, which necessitates buying larger shirts, but then the buggers don't fit somewhere else. Be it the arms, body, or neck, there's always something not quite good enough.

So, I was looking for local tailors, and I noticed that an awful lot of shirts were made from two-fold cotton. Obviously, I had to look that up, too, and before I knew it I was reading up on herringbone and Oxford cottons, wefts and warps, which fabrics suit which seasons...

Books are another one. I love a book. Love. One of my favourite past-times is wandering around charity shops with a couple of quid and seeing what I can find. Then – woe betide my wallet – I discovered there is an antique bookshop less than half an hour from me. Have you smelt an old book?

It stirs something deep within me.

It's kind of a pain in the ass; I've only just started a new job, and I'm already mentally spending the wages, and somewhat frivolously, to boot. I want to move into a new place sooner rather than later (before I'm thirty would be nice), so it's something I really need to curb – otherwise I'm going to end up with a fantastically-stocked library and barren cupboards.

Which sounds just fine, when I think about it, until I remember I'm a bookworm in only a figurative sense.

I wonder, though: is it really such a bad thing, to have aspirations, to be always reaching, always pushing for more? After all, isn't that what people call ambition? Certainly there are times I wish I could simply be happy with what I have – I can't deny that – and there are times I worry that I'll never have enough. But then, a little voice chimes, if you're a person disinclined to be satisfied, is it not better to be driven by that desire, rather than embittered by it?

“Dreaming big, thinking little”. That's the key though, isn't it? Life won't give you diddly just because you really, really want it. Despite what a great deal and variety of media have taught me, pluck and courage are not enough; if you're going to dream big, you need to think big, too, because castles built of clouds don't last long against the slings and arrows of reality.

It must be a handy trick to know (clearly I've not quite masted it yet). What could I – or you, or anyone – achieve, if we can learn to temper wild dreams with measured rationality? What couldn't a person do?

Maybe, one day, that person could look back, having achieved more than they'd ever imagined, and be glad they never learned to settle.  

Friday, 19 September 2014

Bloody Ninjas, Man

Fear: a hissing, slithering, word for a nasty, insidious, feeling.

It's almost onomatopoeic in the way it perfectly marries form and meaning. Much as I love lexical oddities in the abstract, though, the practicality is that fear is like a ninja: it's sneaky, it's dangerous, and you have to be on your feet to see it coming. Fear creeps in; fear creates false dichotomies; fear warps and twists and limits, and all without our realising.

The funny thing is that – once upon a time – fear was a good thing. You know the things that scare me? Spiders, clowns, and commitment. All told, they're pretty unlikely to kill me, but once upon a time people were scared of real threats – sabretooth tigers, virulent plagues, the tribe on the other side of the hill – the list goes on. Fear and caution kept you safe, and without them the human race probably wouldn't have gotten as far as it has.

Of course, the converse is true, too: we might well have gotten farther without fear. How many mistakes and poor choices have been made because we were scared? Where would we be – as individuals, as a people – if we could learn to trust a little more? Because once upon a time fear was valuable, and fear kept us alive, but nowadays pretty much all it does is hold us back.

Mouth first - perhaps the worst way to be held back.

The unknown used to contain things with claws, fangs, and poisonous stingers, but for the majority of people reading this the unknown is just as likely to contain pleasant opportunities and unexplored possibilities.

You want an example?

I have an example.

As anyone who's been following The Grown-Up Game knows, I'm big on plans, and my Plan at the moment is to be in London, working a literary career, within a year. I was so focussed on this plan – and this was a mistake in many ways, but that's a blog post for another day – so focussed, that I was blinded to the other paths I might take. I came to view anything and everything that wasn't directly and immediately relevant to that Plan as a wasted effort, and became so afraid of making a mis-step that I became afraid of making any steps at all.

It kinda goes without saying that you can't make any progress that way.

If it weren't for circumstances outside of my control, I wouldn't be working the job I'm working at the moment. That would suck because – although this job is only working towards my Plan in a tangential fashion – it's a great job, with great people, that I enjoy. Had I been left to my own devices, I think there's a real risk I would've allowed fear to prevent me striking out into unfamiliar and unplanned-for territory … without even realising that's what I was doing.

Because that's what fear does: it stops us making stupid decisions, but it also stops us taking potentially-rewarding gambles. Don't get me wrong: I love a horror film, and they just wouldn't be the same without fear – but there's a time and place for everything, and when you put the DVD case back on the shelf, you need to be putting fear away too.

Simple fact is, if you want to do more in life than tread water, you need to be taking those chances.

Don't you think?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Course Correction

I started this blog off by talking about plans, but it seems I can't take my own advice.

I'm not an adult. I mean, sure, technically, but not in any real, visceral sense – not in any way that makes me feel grown up. That's pretty distressing. I'm getting to the age now where my peers – my friends – are getting married, or even raising children, and it's no longer the stuff of jokes. People I went to school with are commuting to work in the big city, paying rent, discussing ISAs … and here I am, trying to find a reason to change out of my pajamas before the second episode of Criminal Minds comes on.

For all that my life is a non-event right now, I want to be doing that grown-up stuff. Though I wouldn't have said it three months ago, I want the commute and the rent and the savings account. I want to be able to discuss at least the basics of architecture; to know which of the local Italians makes the best impression on a first date; to pick out a shirt and tie for work, and know why it should be this tie with that shirt, and not the other.

I'm not at that point, though, and I'm not in a position to be giving anyone advice, either. What I am in a position to do, and what I'd always intended to do, is to record every step I take and every move I make* as I work towards that, and maybe give other people in similar circumstances something to think about. This was about discussing, not dictating; about learning, not lecturing.

I think that's something, that desire, that a lot of people, of a lot of different ages and circumstances, can relate to – but there's no handy guide out there, and it takes a degree of courage to learn by trial and error. Sooner or later though, you have to take that gamble, or risk getting left in the dust.

That was really the point of this blog: to document me, taking that gamble. I forgot that, but I didn't forget the most important part of a Plan: evaluation and adaptation. Sometimes we have to stop and re-evaluate because circumstances force our hand, and sometimes just to make sure we're still on the path we set out to walk. All pretentiousness aside, I was not, and this is me, implementing a little course correction.

What have you done lately?

* and every vow I break. Couldn't resist.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Where The Jobs Are

I've talked about the importance of having a plan, and the kind of mindset with which you need to approach that plan – flexibility and determination – but what exactly should you do to put that plan into practise? That's the million-dollar question.

It's also not one I can give generalised answers to, because it'll depend quite a lot on your specific circumstances and goals, but there are some things everyone can do.

Firstly, be aware of your options. It sounds simple, but there are so many different jobsites out there – generalised, industry-specialised, graduate, part-time and temporary – it can take a little time and effort just to figure out where you should be sending copies of your CV. As always, though, a little prep-work can pay dividends. In general, your newspaper jobs section will have local vacancies, and a website with more of the same. In combination with some of the larger, more-general jobsites, this can be a great resource if you're more focused on getting into work and less on whatever it is exactly that you'd be doing.

However, if there's one particular industry you want to get into, research becomes even more important. Try to find resources that are just as focused as you are. Let's say you want to get into publishing. In that case, look for magazines that cater to the publishing industry – not only is that going to be where you'll find vacancies advertised, they'll also keep you informed of hot topics, perennial concerns, and all that other good-sounding stuff you can drop on an inerviewer to blow 'em away. Find blogs by industry-insiders. Keep an eye out for recruitment drives and competitions. Where possible, attend conferences and local talks.

Remember: your actions have to be as focused as your goal.

That's the face of a man who never phones it in.

Another thing worth remembering is that, just like with insurance and insurance comparers, many companies won't adertise their vacancies through public venues. You'll often find that jobs that fall under your local council or government's jurisdiction, for example, will only be advertised through their own website. If you're shopping for high-ranking positions or looking for something within a specific company or insular profession, the absolute best thing you can do is to check frequently with those companies. In this day and age it's a given those companies will have a job section on their website but, if not, there's no harm in sending a speculative email or letter.

Don't stop looking, either! Don't assume you've found all the relevant blogs or bought subscriptions to every useful magazine. If you're very dedicated to the jobhunt, very specific in what you're looking for, or unfortunate enough to be at it for a long time, sooner or later you'll feel like you've exhausted your options – and that's why it's important to keep looking for new ones. New companies, new jobs, and new jobsites are always winking in and out of existence, so the options are there – if you know where to look.

Have you found a job advertised in a particularly odd place, or taken an unusual path to employment? Any particularly good jobsites to recommend, or resources you think jobhunters should be aware of? Comment below and share! Don't forget, too, that next Tuesday there'll be another Charity Shop Book Review over at Yuppee. Follow @danecurel and you can stay informed of blog updates, book reviews, and anything else I get up to.

Friday, 29 August 2014

I Can Be Succinct, Too

A short one today. No funny pictures or anything.

I know, right?

But, look: the most important thing to do with a plan is to stick to it. It can be hard sometimes, when you feel like you're stalling out, to keep pushing forwards – but that's what you have to do. That's the key to moving forwards.

You do it one step at a time.

Before you know it, you'll be looking back on how much you've accomplished and wondering what the hell you were worrying about way back when.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Wait, Ring of Fire Isn't an Extracurricular Activity?

If you've been doing your homework, you have a life plan. You have a goal, and you've worked out some tasks you'll need to tick off along the way. How exactly do you go about doing that, though?

It's important to know your destination, but that's only part of the equation. What path are you going to take to get there? There's plenty to choose from – perhaps more than you realise – with different pros and cons. Let's take a hypothetical – let's say you've just left education, and you want to move into employment.

Ok, so it's less of a hypothetical, and more my actual life.

Still waiting on the paychecks, though.

But, anyway, let's run with that. Now, what I've found is that a degree, in and of itself, does not necessarily open as many doors as it may have in the past. Don't despair, though; a degree may not be quite the skeleton key it once was, but it's not as worthless as some naysayers would have you believe, either.

An aside: whatever your circumstances, if you're looking for new employment, it's important to remember that you are quite literally selling yourself to potential employers.

To do that, you need to bring as much to the table as possible.

You're trying to convince employers to pick you over any number of other candidates, and to do that, you need to stand out; you need to offer as many perks and advantages as possible; you need, in short, to make it an easy decision.

Not that easy, mind.

Now, obviously, if you're already in employment you'll have things like extensive practical experience on your side – but that is not the demographic of this blog. Let's say, instead, that you're one of those lucky bastards  students still in education.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that it's enough simply to attend all your lectures and hand in your coursework on time.

Hard as it might be to believe considering the extended trial that is third year, this is the bare minimum your course requires of you. You can take it as a given that you'll be competing with a hell of a lot of other graduates, all of whom will have also achieved that bare minimum – and if everyone has done it, it's no longer special.

You're gonna need a bit more than that.

The specific opportunities available to you will vary from one university to another, but they are there. Let's see if I can dip into my dark and murky past and drudge up an example, eh?

So, I read English at University, with an emphasis on writing creatively. As it happened, the university produced its own creative writing magazine which, besides providing a venue for my writing, also gave me the chance to try my hand at proofreading and some basic editing.

That's exactly the sort of extracurricular opportunity you have to seize – and quickly, too.

There are plenty of other ways your university can support you, too. Most – if not all – will have some sort of employment office, which can hook you up with work experience over the holidays or interviews after graduation. It's also worth taking the time to talk to your lecturers – they're likely to have connections in and first-hand knowledge of the industries you're still learning about. Your university library should stock a range of industry publications too, which are a great way of learning about graduate schemes, industry movers and shakers, and the sort of bleeding-edge developments that your course just won't cover.

Increasingly, we live in a world where a degree is simply not enough. However, there is a lot of extra value you can squeeze out of higher education, if you know what to look out for and have the drive to go after it.

Of course, you can say that about a lot of things – and next week I'll talk about how you can apply the same sort of approach outside of education, too.

Don't forget to check out the latest Charity-Shop Book Review – Annie Proulx's Close Range – over at Yuppee Magazine, and make sure to follow @DaneCurel as well, to keep up with the latest news.

Friday, 15 August 2014

You Need A Plan - Or At Least 12% Of One

So, you find yourselves at a crossroads. Except it's not so much a crossroads, as it is the heart of a labyrinth, and not only do you not have a map, you have to be out by nightfall. You know where you are, and you know where you want to be, but you don't know which path to take, and time is ticking away.

I may have overextended the metaphor.

That's essentially how I felt after leaving University. I had a solid idea of the sort of jobs I wanted, but no real idea how to translate the skills and experience I'd been accumulating for the past three years into gainful employment. Perhaps, like me, you've just left – or are about to leave – University. Maybe you've spent the last few years working instead, and now you've a good idea of the sort of roles and industries you enjoy, you want to switch from paying the bills to pursuing a career. You may even be going in the opposite direction! After spending a few years in employment you may feel like you're just treading water, and now you're wondering if a degree will prepare you to re-enter the workforce, reinvigorated and ready to break through to the next level.

If you're anything like me, it's one hell of an overwhelming place to be in your life.

Not, like, Kristen Stewart overwhelmed. Like, real overwhelmed.

It's so difficult to know where to start, and so easy to make a misstep. Personally, the fear of making a wrong decision often prevents me from making any decision at all. What if I hate this job? What if I love it, but I don't get the experience I wanted? All the time invested in that job would be wasted. I could try a vocational course, but what if I decide I don't enjoy it? What if it doesn't actually help me find a job? Time and money down the drain.

What helped me to tackle this – and what could help you too – is a plan. A map for the labyrinth of life, if you like. So, sit down with a pen and paper, and think: This is where I want to be in a year – how do I get from here to there? Lay it all out, in the simplest of terms. By the time I turn 25, I want to be ready to make the move to London. So, I'll need money to support myself, which means I need to start saving. However, once I'm in London, I'll need to earn money, too. I'll need to find a job, and to be reasonably certain of managing that I'll need experience.

Fortunately, I can be accumulating both of those at the same time.

I need to find a job, then. What sort of job? I don't want to move to London just to clean toilets – so what do I want to do? I've known for a long time that I want to get into the writing industry – either as a writer myself, or on the publishing side of things.

Now we're getting somewhere! I know I need a job, and I know what sort of job I want. I'm still a ways off employment, though. What sort of experience do I need to get, then? Well, administrative experience – or anything office-based, really – would be useful. Now I've worked that out, those “is this really the right job...?” doubts don't nag too much; after all, it doesn't matter too much if it's not the ideal job, because it's only a stepping stone towards bigger and better things.

Hold up, though! I said I wanted to work in the writing industry, and experience of working in an office environment might be necessary, but it ain't sufficient to get me through the door. Actual writing experience could do it, though. How do I go about building a portfolio, and developing as a writer?

Hey – one of those 'blog' things might be a start...

It might seem like a comparatively minor thing, but a plan like that, laid out in plain black and white, can be a surprisingly powerful tool. It can keep you grounded when you're feeling overwhelmed; it can give you something to feel positive about when you feel like you're treading water; it can give you a clear list of tasks and objectives when you're feeling lost at sea.

A plan isn't the be-all and end-all but it is a step in the right direction, and lays out the path for future progress.

Oh, and in other news, I now write a book review for Yuppee Magazine. The Charity-Shop Book Review aims to bring to your attention all those overlooked treasures that wash up on charity-shop bookshelves, and updates on the first Tuesday of every month (so the first review – Annie Proulx's Close Range – is already up). Make sure to follow @DaneCurel as well, to be sure you aren't missing out on any other forgotten favourites.  

Friday, 8 August 2014

So, I Have This Problem...

I don't know how it happened, but today I woke up and I was an adult.

I shouldn't have been too surprised – it happened the day before, and the day before that, and so on. It's been happening for a while, in fact, and yet it's still causing me issues. The thing is, I don't know what it actually means.

This kid seems to have it figured out, though.

I mean, what does an adult actually do? What's supposed to happen? Is there a membership card, perhaps, that got lost in the post? If there's an instruction booklet, I haven't received mine, and I'd like to make my displeasure known (see, an adult would know what sort of numbers to call and council employees to harangue about that).

Then, a few weeks ago, another strange thing happened.

Wait, no.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time in London, and within half an hour of stepping from the train I'd decided this was the place for me. I wanted to spend weekends in the Tate, evenings in pricey bohemian bars, to be obnoxious when tourists stood on the wrong side of the Tube escalators. I wanted to live in London, I wanted to do London things, to think London thoughts.

Which would be no small feat for someone who turned 18 and half expected to start sprouting in a Mogwai-like fashion every time he showered.

So, on the one hand I have these lofty aspirations and arguably more hope than sense; on the other, I may not have any idea about things like checking accounts and tax returns, but I do have a reason to learn.

What's more, every week I'll be taking you through that process. Every Friday I'll walk you through the steps I've taken towards a London-based life. Each week I'll explain - for example - the steps a person can take towards employment; I'll discuss my decisions and I'll talk about how they panned out. Hopefully you'll be able to take something away from my experiences – even if it's how not to go about things.

Why a blog, though? Besides needless self-aggrandisement, that is.

You'll just have to come back next Friday to find out.