Moment

It happened, eventually. Today I left work to step into a period of great uncertainty.

I have taken redundancy, with no safety net, and it feels absolutely the right decision.

We are planning to spend some time converting some space in our house to be used a public space- a guest house, a retreat venue and a place where people can come to learn crafts and art. We have hopes and dreams but there is no certainty that this will work out.

Sorry to bleat on about this, it is not as if thousands of others are not having to try to reinvent life in the wake of redundancy or worse. But it does feel like a big deal- the turning of a life-page. And we only have a limited number of those.

As ever I was playing with words, as a means of processing some of what is going on in my head;

Moment

In the end it came quietly

No clatter of broken chains

No fanfare for the passing

Just another moment slipping by

But most unusually this one

Was not missed

But squarely met

 

And in the years to come

Who can say what now will look like from then?

Whether today will be the pivot on which this

Life turned

Or whether it is yet to turn again.

Unfolding paper clips…

They are important, these markings of transitions.

They are the spirituality of the mundane. And no less the lovely for that.

Today I met with some of my friends and colleagues from a 10 year career with Argyll and Bute council for my leaving do. People said some lovely things, and I think they meant them. Tears were shed, speeches spoken and extravagant gifts given/received.

A while ago, whilst we were reflecting on the chaos that the social work department is currently experiencing at the moment (losing over half of the experienced managers with no immediate replacements) I wondered aloud how on earth  the council could get away with it all. A wise friend of mine said something like this; It will be like a hand in a bucket of water, the hand thinks that the bucket will be lost without it, but as soon as you pull the hand, the water close like it has never been there.

I was sad when I heard it, because I knew it to be true. Large public departments are never dependent on individuals. They have a life of their own and there are always more people ready to be fed into the machine.

However, today might suggest that something lives on in the legacy you leave behind. The shape of you, even in the large bucket of water, in turn affects the shape of others- for good and ill, although I hope mostly for good.

Lest I start to get too elevated in my ego, one of the gifts given to me today was a ‘newspaper’, with the headline story something like this;

JAMMY CHRIS GOAN LEAVES TODAY – YES TODAY!

Chris Goan leaves Ellis Lodge Today… remaining workforce celebrate!

A Local Authority was in uproar today when one of its employees Chris Goan was finally ejected from the building. “He’s been a right skiver since the day he started here” said one employee who did not wish to be named (but known in the building as the Haggis Rustler) “I can’t wait to see the back of the bugger.”

One of Chris’s best friends (who will be paid later) said “I’m supposed to be on holiday today but I came in to see him leave for myself” He added “There was a rumour going around about him leaving, but it seemed to good to be true.” He added “When I saw we were doing a collection for him, I thought we were paying him to resign, so I put fifty quid in.”

Amongst Goan’s leaving presents was a half empty box of elastic bands, the account managers slippers and a card signed by two people (in the same handwriting.)

One of Goan’s work colleagues told our reporters “Nobody untwisted a paper clip quite like him, he won’t be easy to replace.” These statements were later echoed by Goan’s immediate boss who was found in a local pub drinking champagne straight from the bottle. “It will be hard filling Chris’s role, the idle sod took the heat off me. He’s certainly more popular than I thought he was though, someone chipped in £50 for his leaving present, so here I am.”

While the crowd outside Ellis Lodge enjoyed the subsequent celebratory barbecue and firework display, Goan’s boss continued to drink to his departure. When pushed for a more upbeat statement, he grudgingly added; “We wish Chris every happiness, no he has finally left us.”

A final statement issued collectively by the entire Cowal/Bute, Helensburgh/Lomond workforce and all MHO’s late last night read “Chris Goan, you are a… really nice guy! You are loved and will be missed, Damn you you lucky lucky thing!

(I think I have my lovely admin worker Issy to thank for this!)

As career epitaphs go, I will settle for that one.

Thanks friends…

Jubilee approaches…

I am in a strange place at the moment- all about transition. The ending of one thing and the step into an uncertain other. It is on the whole a good place, but not without it’s physical and psychological challenge. I have less than two weeks left in my current job (perhaps even my current career) and then I plunge into a time of relative free fall.

There is a plan of sorts- I will have some redundancy money that will keep us going for a little while and allow me to invest in alterations to the house. We hope to have two double rooms available for holiday letting/bed and breakfast by the end of the summer, which (along with our self catering accommodation) will allow us to make some kind of a living through hospitality. Our real hope is that we can start to offer a combination of activities around the old house- retreat weekends, pottery courses, outdoor activities etc. (We have a FB page and a website if you are interested to see where things are up to at present.)

I also hope that I get some time to spend writing. It is perhaps what I love to do most- a private secret thing that may well have no external application, but if I do not give some serious effort towards, will be a source of regret.

Then there is social work- I am not entirely sure I am done with it. I hope that in the process of stepping off the tread mill I might rediscover some of the passion and idealism that made me a social worker in the first place. I will probably need to do some part time work too.

On Sunday, during our Aoradh family worship day, Andy spoke about slavery. He described the context of slavery in the time of Jesus- people born into slavery, captured there in war, or selling themselves into slavery in order to cope with life or debt. Andy made the comparison with our relationship to money in our age- which (given what I have said above) clearly resonated with me.

We are all caught up in things that hold us, for good or ill. Some of this we fell into out of the womb, some caught us through circumstance, yet others we willingly tie ourselves to. Often it seems that these things become bigger than us- they offer us no choices, no release; we become slaves.

There is this other word however, which we have heard rather a lot of over this year in the UK- Jubilee.

I am not talking about elaborate celebrations of the anniversaries of monarchs, but as Wikipedia puts it;

The Jubilee (Hebrew yovel יובל) year is the year at the end of seven cycles of shmita (Sabbatical years), and according to Biblical regulations had a special impact on the ownership and management of land in the Land of Israel; there is some debate whether it was the 49th year (the last year of seven sabbatical cycles, referred to as the Sabbath’s Sabbath), or whether it was the following (50th) year.

“This fiftieth year is sacred—it is a time of freedom and of celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families. “
My Jubilee is not a release from bondage into some kind of utopian ideal- and I am sure it never was for the Hebrews. It just signifies for me the simple fact that making risky shifts in the fabric of our lives is a rare privilege.
.

Vocation…

Yesterday I received my redundancy letter. It was not a surprise- it has been two years plus in the writing. Neither was it entirely without choice, I have decided not to accept offers of alternative employment within the social work department.

Which brings me to this word-vocation, defined in the dictionary as

vo·ca·tion

[voh-key-shuhn]  Show IPA

noun

1.

a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
2.

a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activityor career.
3.

a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
4.

a function or station in life to which one is called by God: thereligious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

But also defined here like this;

The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. In the broadest sense, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC 2392). More specifically, in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, this idea of vocation is especially associated with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage to a particular person, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single person. In the broader sense, Christian vocation includes the use of one’s gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.

I entered social work as a vocation. It was almost a priestly thing for me. This might be difficult for others to understand-it is not as though social work has a status that might be seen to deserve respect. But there are lots of parallels- both are concerned with pastoral care, both are (or were) driven by higher ideas and ideology, both are embedded in institutions in the main.

To leave a vocation is no easy matter.

Reading through the second definition of the word (above) I wonder about this suggestion that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. This reminds me too much of old conversations about some kind of plan that God has written for each of us in some kind of massive ledger, and woe betide us if, like Christian in Pilgrims progress, we step off the golden path into some kind of career apostasy.

Such determinism has little place in my understanding of our pilgrim journeys, but we all make choices, even if the choice is to not change a thing. I do not know clearly what my vocation is at the moment. I have some clues of course- if I was to get to the very heart of things, it would be to create- to write words that inspire and shape the thinking of others. Whether this is a realistic vocation now has to be tested!

But this bit of the definition above I can stand on firmly;

Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being”

And the application of this in the ways that we come to live, this is the long road that we Christian pilgrims have to travel.

Travel well…

Finally- choices…

I have hinted a few times here that we are facing a major life change. At last, I have come to the point of having to actually make some choices. They amount to one of the following;

  1. An application for a new social work management job, managing all adult care (currently I manage Mental Health services.)
  2. A demotion to a team leaders job.
  3. Redundancy.

I also have, for the first time after 2 years a date – the 27th of July – by which everything will be concluded (although I have learnt to distrust any deadline made in this process!) I need to make my choice by the end of next week.

In many ways however it was a choice I made some time ago because I am just about at the end of my coping skills with my current job.

This is in part because of the natural process of working on the very edges of society for nearly 22 years, attempting to balance what often seem like mutually incompatible priorities- the (still mostly primary) hope that social workers have of really helping people/making a difference, and the agency responsibility to manage budgets and police the welfare state.

It is also because of the total lack of respect that wider society has for the things that social workers do- despite the fact that we have yet to find any other profession or any other mechanism that will do the things that we do. And some of the things that I have done and people I have met along the way you would not believe…

Then there is the increasing grinding pressure of regulation, scrutiny and performance management. The things that are quantifiable and therefore to the interest of the system are often the things that I have very little interest in. It is almost impossible to measure things like improvement in wellbeing, lives subtly changed because of the chemistry of kindness and respect. Social workers now spend 80% of their working lives in front of computer screens. Tell me where and how this makes sense?

Then there are the senior managers. Some appear to be suffering from some kind of psychopathy- I can never work out whether the job did this to them, or they rose so high because of (a.) their inability to see any colours other than black and white, and (b.) their utter lack of interest in anyone who did not directly enhance or threaten their careers. (The former are courted, the latter ruthlessly destroyed.) The end result is toxicity in the heart of a profession that is supposed to be all about caring.

Finally there are the suits. It probably says something about my career that I have always refused to work in a suit. I often feel slightly self conscious about this as I am frequently the only man in a room that is not wearing one. But the suit has come to represent something to me of what I am NOT. That is not to say that every person dressed in smart business wear in councils is somehow suspect, sold out- I have met many lovely suit wearers. It is just that suits are power statements, and I am much more interested in making real connections with people. It has become something of an overvalued issue for me, so much so that I am considering renting a tuxedo for my last day in work- catharsis by cummerbund.

The choice to leave will mean large amounts of uncertainty for both me and my family. But right now it feels like the only choice possible, and this is both tantalising and terrifying in equal measure.

Today I was not Murun Buchstansangur…

After a particularly brutal week, there was a chance that today could have gone something like this;

(This post bring back lots of memories! Can you believe that this was a children’s programme back in the 80’s? This one seems to recommend idleness and alcoholism! I confess to a slight affinity to Murun Buchstansangur- perhaps related to the general melancholy that seems to be his watchword…)

After a morning seeking motivation, I eventually sparked into life, and re roofed my workshop and the bike shed- both damaged in the big storm. Quite a productive un-Murun like day in the end.

The postman brought me a letter today, offering me jobs that I do not want, or redundancy. It has been a long time coming (2 years of rumour, misinformation, bad communication and often downright overt rudeness) and despite having made my decision some time ago, it was still something of a shock to the system.

Murun does not seem to need a job. I wonder who pays his mortgage, or re-roofs his sheds?

A day of possibilities…

They don’t come along often. Sure there are always choices that we can make but most of the time the road leads in one direction. But I am approaching a junction though.

Three ways diverge. One is promotion in my current work, the other demotion. I can choose either of these versions of ‘more of the same’.

The other road is far less certain. Once again, there is a more than even chance of being offered voluntary redundancy. I should be getting a letter by the end of the week asking me to put my cards on the table.

Take the blue pill.

Make the jump into the unknown.

Burn my bridges.

If I take this option there are no guarantees that it will not go badly wrong. We have talked about a variety of other ways of making a living- B and B, art, retreats, writing, crafts and pottery, but these are fairly untested.

The penalty for failure in terms of impact on myself and my family would be catastrophic.

But despite all of this the possibilities of the uncertain road are calling me…