Working Girl

I was going to be an accountant, you know. I only received minimal careers advice at school, but I knew that I liked words and numbers; however, I presumed that I’d never make it as a writer so, accountancy it was.

Unfortunately, no-one had pointed out to me that I would make a terrible, terrible accountant. I’m too disorganised, too distractible; it would have been an awful fit for me. This isn’t to knock accountancy in any way; it’s an important profession. Indeed, I’m profoundly grateful that my own amazing accountant chose it as her own career path as, before I started using her, I struggled to complete my tax returns. The last seven words of that previous sentence tell you that I really would have been a disastrous accountant. Happily, I slipped sideways into a career in radio, and accountancy was spared the horror of my services.

Anyway, my own crappy career choices mean that I’m keen to help others avoid similar pitfalls. So I’m taking part in my daughter’s school’s career fair this morning; they’ve asked me to talk about my glittering* career as a book editor and copywriter.

Well, it turns out that very few kids actually want to talk to me (note to self: everyone else has corporate banners and freebies to give away. I have nothing except a few copies of my books; no teenager wants to read them, which is fair enough). So, I have plenty of time to ruminate on my working life and give you some career advice instead.

I mean, you probably don’t need any career advice. Certainly not from me. If you were here, you’d also be queuing for a free gonk from the paramedic—or a go on the policeman’s handcuffs—and giving a wide berth to my pathetic trestle table with its hastily scribbled sign. I don’t blame you; I’m hoping to score a free gonk myself. But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned about work:

1) Do a job that you love—or at the very least, that you care about—or it will rot your soul.

Having done many jobs that I adored—and a few that made me dread getting up in the morning—I know I do my best work when I’m happy and motivated. Which leads me onto:

2) The money isn’t worth your health or your sanity.

If you suspect your job’s making you ill—whether physically or mentally—then you need to change something. At the least, talk to your boss about how the issues and what you can do about them. I’m lucky that most of my jobs have been brilliant, but I had a few that took their toll on my health. I quit them and didn’t regret it for a second.

3) There’s usually an open window somewhere.

I studied economics at uni, in preparation for my fabulous accountancy career. But life had other plans. I got involved in student radio, which led to some work reading travel bulletins, which led to a job in local radio. I kept thinking I’d get a proper job at some point but, 25 years on, I’m still in the media and I’ve never used that economics degree.

4) Say yes to everything that isn’t a terrible idea.

It could be an amazing opportunity; some of my most exciting jobs have come from chance conversations. But, even if it doesn’t work out, there’s always something to learn and something good that comes out of it. Even when one client stiffed me over a payment for some work I’d already completed, I was able to feel grateful (eventually); the skills I’d learned on that job opened a window for me somewhere else four years later.

5) You are not your job.

Enjoy your work, but don’t confuse it with your own value. When I had my first daughter, whenever I met anyone new, I’d usually blurt out: “I’m on maternity leave BUT I USED TO BE A RADIO PRODUCER”, as if that was the only thing that mattered.

Anyway, I’m having a lovely morning. I might have only spoken to a handful of kids who had any real interest in writing, but they were so sparky and passionate that it made doing the fair a pleasure. And if it saves one of them from an ill-fitting career in accountancy, then it’ll all be worthwhile.


Situations Vacant

It was the first day of a new job, writing training manuals for my new boss and her beauty business.

I tried to plug in my laptop. “Let me do it!” she shouted, diving beneath the desk: “Health and safety! It’s not safe for you to do it”.

She waved a sheath of typed pages under my nose. “This is what I want you to type up. I wrote it on my computer, I just want you to put it into a nice format.”

“If you’ve already done it on your computer”, I asked, “could you email me the file? I could just reformat it then. It makes more sense than me typing it from scratch.”
“No. I don’t want to get a virus from your computer.”
“You won’t get a virus from emailing me a file.”
“No. I don’t want to do that. Just type it up.”
“That doesn’t seem to be the best use of time.”
“Just type it up.”

So, I started typing up the notes while she stood behind my shoulder, watching me type. After ten minutes of this, she finally spoke:
“I don’t think you want this job, do you?”
“Excuse me?”
“Your body language is telling me that you don’t want the job.”
“Excuse me?”
“Look at you, with your shoulders all hunched up. You think this job’s beneath you, don’t you.”
“What? I do want this job. But you don’t seem to want me here.”
“That’s right, I don’t want you here because your body language tells me that you don’t want this job. You should go now.”

Baffled, I closed my laptop and went to unplug it.

“No!” she shouted, diving under the desk again. “Health and safety! I must unplug it for you.”

I grabbed my laptop and left. It was less than forty minutes from arrival to sacking. It remains one of the strangest – and definitely the shortest – jobs I’ve ever done.