If you’re someone who’s learnt another language, you’ll know it can take a long time to reach the point where you admit to speaking it, as in “I speak Russian” (and I don’t by the way), and even longer until you’ll admit you’re fluent; you don’t want to overstate your skills, or suddenly find yourself finger-pointed as a fraud by someone who’s more fluent than you.
It’s a similar thing when you’re trying to work differently; at what point do you call yourself a writer, not a waitress, an actor, not a bar tender, or a small business owner, without umming, errring, and putting a whole load of caveats and limitations around what you’re doing, ‘It’s not reeeeally a business’, ‘It’s just me’ or ‘I haven’t been going for very long’. It’s true, it is just me, I haven’t been going for very long, and, while I’m still finding out what works and what doesn’t, it doesn’t really feel like I’m a business person. Surely a business person is a middle aged man with a shiny suit and a personalised number plate? Or a high-powered woman with multiple mobiles and perfect hair?
Don’t get me wrong, professionalism is important to me, and if you engage me in a conversation about Moll and Mostin, I can talk about the state of play and how I’m moving forward with the best of them. Place me a in a party full of strangers, and ask me ‘What do you do?’ however, and I’m only just learning not to mumble and scuff my feet. As time progresses, I can become clearer about the aspects of Moll and Mostin that I want to develop, and this is helping me answer that question with more clarity than before.
Another side-effect of working differently, is the uncertainty it causes in other people. If ‘What do you do?’ is the first question we ask people, then it can cause confusion if the answer back isn’t usual. I’m sure if you work doing something truly obscure or have been hit with redundancy, the situation is similar. If your work path veers from a normal office progression, in whatever industry, if you’re not wearing suits to work, commuting, and reassuringly progressing up a career ladder, friends, family and acquaintances can find it a bit awkward; how can they tell if you’re successful, if they can’t spot normal signs of success – expensive holidays, house deposits and changes in job title? Bloggers, how do you explain what you do to your grandparents?
But I’m a bit guilty of it too; if I see someone I know, I am very clear to state that I’m not only working at my part-time job, but doing Moll and Mostin too. It’s important to me that people know I’m trying to do something more than working part time in the service industry. Which is silly, because it allows me so many brilliant things; the people are work with are fantastic, I can see Mr Moll properly, regularly, and not only when one of us is asleep. I have some opportunities to do and see things in the week, when other people are in work (although I also miss out on some weekends). If you believe the Guardian article on what dying people regret most, I’m doing pretty well. So, time to count my blessings.