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.