Friday, 18 October 2013

How I live now / Part Two

So you are a highly experienced professional, currently in a spot of limbo between careers (see Part One).

You eventually find a formula to tactfully remind your contacts that you are free, yes, but free to perform paid work. You have to start thinking of yourself again as a freelancer, a concept which nostalgically puts you back twenty years, but sadly not in the same dress size.

Paid gigs materialise eventually, and you are grateful for them, but they pay just enough to get the job done, not to attend to the politics that go with it, so an act of self-discipline, almost of re-wiring is required. 

My sister, a life long freelancer, calls it 'doing it like a man', meaning: agree some terms, get tooled up, go in, get it done, get out. It sounds weirdly sexual, I know. Apart from the final bit which is: spend ages chasing payment.

What she means (and I must say I totally agree) is that as women we have the tendency to spend a hell of a long time agonising over stuff, particularly feelings, often other people's, and over how things 'will look' and be interpreted. We are - generally speaking and of course this is a massive generalisation - diligent and worried about failure, not just our own but of the overall endeavour we are engaged in, so we end up in bits, directing the traffic blind, troubleshooting, strategising, catastrophysing, taking on all the responsibility for a fraction of the salary of the people actually in charge. 

That's not to say that men are by contrast sloppy. Most professional men are, and this is the crux of the matter, just professional about fee-earning engagements; not maternal, not personal, not emotional nor sacrificial lamb-ish. 

The 'look' Jen gave them this morning during the meeting does not register with them. Fulfilling John's unspoken and ever shifting expectations is not, unless they are salaried employees, seen as their problem. If there are too many balls in the air and some start falling off (again, no sexual undertone here, I assure you), they pick up the ones they were originally responsible for. Maybe. Not someone else's and on no account, ever, every one else's. 

And it's good training too for one's eventual return in the corporate world, as staff on the payroll somewhere, public, private it doesn't matter. The dynamics are often the same.

The other night, after an exercise class, I got chatting to a woman who told me she was on the verge of quitting a job because of tensions with a colleague. Not her boss, not a sex pest-type male colleague, just another female colleague. She has already had to reduce her hours as the stress of the situation was getting too much. 

There is no suggestion that she is at fault. Everyone knows the other lady is weird and fixated with certain ways of doing things. Yes, she has the support of her boss. No, she is has not been humiliated or harangued in public. It's the way this other woman makes her feel and makes her doubt herself

It's crazy, but I see how you could get there, while I doubt men in any job (aside maybe from high ranking Kremlin officials during the Stalinist purges) spend their time second-guessing themselves and their standing among their peers to the point where they voluntarily backtrack towards the exit.

There is a lesson somewhere about resilience, about not being afraid of making a fuss when necessary but not giving a damn when no damn-giving is required. We women can often be, it seems to me, our own worst enemy. 

The patriarchy gets an easy score not only and not just because some of us agree to sing while sitting naked on a breaking ball even if nobody is 'making us' but because most of us run around picking up the falling bits of masonry when absolutely no one is asking us to. 

Am I wrong?

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