“Let’s get down to business, I’ll get to the point” barked the lead engineer, “you know that phase 2 was pushed back 2 months well, we’re looking at maybe 4 months and that starts to impact us now. We had a resource meeting this week and the project is now at a go slow.”
I was suddenly aware of how uncomfortable the squashed and sweaty, small of my back was on my chair, the wheeze of the computer fan and the distinct possibility that every breath I made was being heard by the other dozen team members. I quickly pressed mute on my headset, plumped myself in my seat and leaned in for the punchline.
“I know that you’ve all been working full time since Christmas, but it looks like it’ll be less going forward. For a couple of weeks or months anyway. There’ll not be enough work to keep us all busy and what we do have we’ll go slow on. For those of your who are contractors, you’ll know the drill. We’ll see what other work we can find and we’ll keep the graduates and staff as busy as we can but, this is just the way things are at the moment. I’ll let you know what’s happening at next week’s management meeting.”
Ripples of fear and self-pity lapped over my amygdala. He didn’t mention me by name but this is just a way of pushing me off the project. The grown-ups have already talked it through. I’ve not impressed and that mix-up with between the 6th and 7th edition of the design standards was remembered and not forgiven. It’s personal and anyway I’m a contractor, I’m first out the door. Or worse still, sit waiting day in, day out hoping for a few scraps of work, a few hours here or there – I’ve got more self-respect than that. Maybe if I volunteer a pay-cut or just work for free, I’ll get something.
Then it was calm again, I stared above my screens to the bright blue sky which was dotted with soft white clouds. There’s not much to really worry about and in any case; I’m getting on well here. SOMETIMES IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. And I’d rather have too little work than be panicked from 9-5 every day and log-in out of hours to push paperwork through.
In fact, a bit of time off could be nice, get out more now that the days are longer and lockdown will come to an end. This could be good for me; more time to read, write, cycle, cook, clean, exercise, spend more time with the kids and have less stress. It’s an ideal solution – part time work for the work optional family man.
Or I could invest the time in something more productive. This blog doesn’t make me any money, but maybe it could? (It won’t) Or a new blog or I could develop a side-hustle. Or I could pick up that course I signed up for but didn’t really start, I’d have the hours to do it now and learning can be fun. It might help my career too; my CV will still say I was gainfull employed and y0oworking on the project but I’ll be sneakily getting the skills for my next job up to scratch.
The World is my Oyster
I’ve been working for 14 years and it would be fair to say that whilst I didn’t always give 100% at work, work tended to take up 100% of my life. Friends, family, my physique were all placed down the pecking order of priorities. When my boss said jump, I didn’t listen to my body say “give me a minute to warm up, I’m out of shape!”
How come after half a career’s worth of work, experience and some modest achievements, I’m left feeling like I’m incompetent, disposable and one shake of a project manager’s head from being discarded to the scrap heap of history? I don’t feel that was all the time, but sometimes. One thing that they don’t tell you is that when you get older, your range of choices becomes more restricted.
Old Dog, New Tricks?
There’s a phrase about having a dog in the fight and having fight in the dog. I sort of feel like this, it’s hard to get too enthusiastic about slogging your guts out on a new job (like the Lady is) or new project or learning new skills when not as young, fit or hungry for it as many others.
The company I am contracted to at the moment are decent enough to work for; nice, small team of friendly people and realistic about matching your availability around personal commitments – definitely low stress. I’ve been there almost a year and compared to the old place I was at where I had more bookable hours, I’m happier with this place.
The project I’m on is great too, it’s a novel technology and that means potentially a lot of future work. That’s the carrot at the end of the stick right there. And it’s an area of engineering that I can actually easily transition into without doing a lot of training or educating myself.
The Grass is Always Greener
Funnily enough, my current company isn’t the only one that’s involved in this arena and there are other companies that are recruiting for engineers. I could apply, you know, see if they’d have me, maybe pick up a pay rise along the way? Who knows? The deadline for submissions is today (Friday, 5th March) and I might just go for it, it would be good to network a bit and see who else is working (actually working that is) and maybe pick up some advice.
However, the allure of another company doesn’t change the fact that it’s probably same shit, different badge and maybe the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. I can put up with a little bit of idelness in exchange for a few less grey hairs and my CV doesn’t let on that I’ve been taking it a bit easy.
So, go slow is no worry.