I work for a homeshare programme in London. This is my first job since graduating in July 2014, and I sure as hell hope it isn’t my last. I started working for the Charity in October 2014 and when I first walked through the office doors, I was determined to be the best ‘me’ that I could ever be. Armed with fresh optimism and eager to learn, I thought I was well prepared to begin my first ‘adult career’. I had so much hope, so many plans and I knew I was going to climb up the career ladder fast!
My partner and I had had ‘the talk’ and mutually agreed that because we knew how strong and solid our relationship was/is, that we could put our careers first, even if that meant sacrificing certain things in our relationship. We were both going to work hard so that we could have the dream life we wanted together.
At the time we were living in Kent and our office is in North London so it involved (on a good day) a commute of about 2 hours and 30 minutes there and then 2 hours and 30 minutes back. I was also in my honeymoon period at my job so it involved me leaving the office late and getting home even later. I was a little firecracker who wanted to please everybody, my boss, my colleagues, and my clients, that I was willing to do almost anything to keep everyone happy. I went above and beyond the call of duty and it seemed to do wonders for me.
I would stay in the office late, agree to meetings that were out of my 9-5 hours, I would answer my work phone whenever, wherever whatever I was doing, all the while telling myself “Hey I’m doing the best for my job!” Despite having a personal phone and a separate work phone, I still put my work email on my personal phone, I believed this would help me stay on top of things, getting on average of about 50+ emails a day, you can imagine how busy my inbox is, by having my work email easily accessible I thought I was preventing myself from headache and stress. Boy was I wrong.
Before this job I had a debilitating fear of public transport (particularly if I was travelling on them, even worse if I was traveling ALONE! Consider me catatonic if I were ever forced to travel on public transport, on my own, AT NIGHT!) My job involved me travelling all over London, using all modes of public transport, and eventually it was a fear that I had to overcome. I sucked up my fear and distracted myself as much as I could, I’d read a book, listen to music, play on games until eventually I got used to travelling alone (don’t get me wrong I still have my fear but it’s manageable now.) But then I got a phone call from a client who NEEDED TO SEE ME, but couldn’t see me until after 7:00pm. With the thought of my targets in my mind, I begrudgingly accepted the meeting. I went to the meeting, I did what I had to, and soon enough it was 10:00pm, in the middle of winter and I was still in London, just finishing a meeting I really didn’t need to do. This panic set in and I somehow got through my 2 and half hour commute in a daze. When I got home that night I thought about the growing I had done in my early months at work, but I also thought about the things that work had me doing that went beyond my comforts and that it wasn’t always for my best interest.
At the beginning of my working life, it wasn’t just me who suffered it was also my relationships. Date nights were no longer sacred and I would always reply to emails in the middle of dinner…a movie…I’d take calls in the middle of conversations or was late to see my friends because I was so busy trying to solve everyone’s problems. I didn’t see there was anything wrong with what I was doing until one fateful evening.
The client I had told you about previously, the one who had me meet her at 7:00pm on a Friday night, well she always had me jumping through hoops and being the naïve and eager working girl that I was, I didn’t see her demands as unreasonable, and I happily complied to everything she told me to do. Let’s call her Amy.
Amy was in line to move in with her householder when one day she decided to call me and tell me that her commute to work would be too long and too expensive. I tried to appease her by asking if she wanted to consider other locations but NO. She gasped as if I had insulted her and told me how it would be over dramatic to cancel on the current householder, instead she wanted me to reduce her costs. Now as a not-for-profit Charity, we still have targets to make with every match we do, not because we get commission and it lines our pockets with a bonus, no…it’s because we have costs, costs of running our office, admin, etc. and if we don’t match those targets then we make a loss meaning eventually we’ll be unable to help anyone. I explained this to her and that I was unable to make a reduction on her fee completely as there were other candidates who could be considered for her opportunity, to put it bluntly, there were about 10 more clients I could replace her with and she was nothing special. This absolutely outraged her and after 20 minutes of telling me how we already had paperwork drawn up and it was in ‘my’ best interest to comply with her latest demand, I spoke to the householder and explained the situation she said she was happy to increase her fee in order to subsidise Amy’s. I got back on the phone to Amy and told her the good news, you’re probably thinking, oh she must be thrilled! No, she wasn’t, she then proceeded to tell me how disgraceful it was that I would charge the householder more etc. In the end she decided that the only way we could continue was to charge her at a reduced price and keep the standard fee for the householder, even if it meant, making a loss and thus meaning we have less money for resources, with the eventuality that we’d be helping less people. Long story short, I told her no, she wasn’t happy and told me I was a lousy worker and demanded to speak to my manager, I gladly passed her on to my manager who had spent the last hour listening to our conversation and who could hear her loud voice from across the room. Eventually she managed to calm the homesharer down who had worked herself into a manic state of frenzy (why? Who knows maybe she just loved to be crazy). That night as I packed my bags to go home, I felt this wave of defeat wash over me, I suddenly felt the months of time commuting, the hours I spent late in the office, the beating I took from clients (metaphorically) on a daily basis and the targets not being matched (I would like to tell you now that in a Homeshare programme, the numbers don’t always represent the hard work you put in). I was going to be the star worker, the best employee, the one who climbed the ladder the fastest…but that knock back made me see my position at work for what it really was… one floor of emptiness where dreams go to die. DRAMATIC HUH. But I just felt this horrible weight and I couldn’t shake my disappointment at how Amy had acted and how people like her existed in this world.
As I got on train, after train, after bus home, I thought about the day and whether other jobs were like mine. I was walking up the driveway when my work phone buzzed three times. 3 messages from Amy. All three practically essays telling me how I was under qualified and I was a terrible worker who extorted money from innocent people. She told me she was going to report me to my boss, the CEO everyone and anyone who could have power to reduce me to nothing. She told me she wasn’t happy with my service and that she would make sure everyone stayed clear from our programme. I read this all one by one slowly taking it in. When I finally got into the safety of my bedroom, I burst into uncontrollable tears until I was literally, blue in the face. I was shaking out of fear…scared of what? I don’t know. My phone buzzed a couple more times and I saw they were from Amy, I didn’t bother reading them as I already gave her what she wanted. You’re probably thinking, it was just one occasion, no big deal? But the thing is there were more Amy’s after her, some of them were worse, and over time I actually got used to them, but even then, it was still so horrible to experience. Sometimes I laugh because whenever someone threatens to get me fired I think in my head, go ahead, I hate this job and can’t wait for you to get me fired. I’ve never done anything to warrant that kind of threat, but people still do it because they think it’s frightening. Not for me.
But facing that kind of stress amongst other work related stress really affected my personal life. As an adult you basically have 2 lives (until you have kids) your work life and your personal life… and if you don’t know how to draw a line between the two then it will blend together and you won’t ever get any peace or rest. If you’re stuck permanently on work mode, you’ll always be stressed, if you’re permanently on chill mode, then you’ll never get any work done. The problem I was having was I was letting my bad day at work affect my personal life. My partner and I would argue about silly things and sometimes he would say “Just because you’re mad at your client doesn’t mean you have to take it out on me.” And he was totally right. Sometimes I’d get home late and my partner would be doing a late shift, it would be my turn to cook dinner but I’d be so preoccupied replying to emails or answering calls that he’d get home and dinner wouldn’t even be prepared. I’d arrange to see my friends but cancel last minute because I decided that my meeting had to happen even if it was eating into my personal time, but one of the worst things I discovered was when my cousin told me how jealous she was that I was living in London and getting to go all over and explore…I realised, when she said this, that the only time I actually went around ‘London’ was when going to and from meetings and I never actually got to site see because I would be on the underground. Then on weekends I’d have spent the previous week travelling so much that the thought of going back into the city exhausted me! So really I was living in London but not taking advantage of the benefits of it. Not only that but my clients would call, text email me at all times of the day 7 days a week and it wouldn’t be unusual to receive an ‘urgent call’ at 11:30pm at night on a Saturday. I remember many evenings where my partner and I would be on our phones during dinner, when watching a move, when laid in bed next to eachother sending emails for work.
My days blurred into one long endless day, the stresses of yesterday were carried on to today and silly little things seemed huge to me. But then one day I took a much-needed week off to recuperate and I did a little experiment. I turned off my work phone, the first time I’d ever done that before, I also deleted my work email from my personal phone, I didn’t even feel tempted to log on and see how many missed calls, and unread emails I had. Something amazing happened… I had 1 week of blissful work and stress free genuine happiness. I didn’t suffer from insomnia; I didn’t wake up feeling sick… And I woke up when my body made me and not a loud annoying ringtone.
I realised a lot in my time out from work… I saw the mistakes I made. The thing is people by nature are very needy, and if you allow them to then they will take up all of your time. Whilst that’s okay when it’s happening during your work hours, it isn’t okay for it to take up your entire life. If you allow it, your work will consume you, something you need to learn early on is how to draw a line between being a good and dedicated worker and being a pushover. I had to learn the hard way that going above and beyond isn’t always appreciated nor is it always worth it. You’re allowed to be a little selfish with your time because it’s so precious. Doing the odd extra hour here and there is good but constantly putting your personal life on hold to make a client happy isn’t going to make you happy, and if you aren’t happy then you’re being counter productive because that isn’t what is best for your client, or your colleagues. As for your relationships, well a happier you will be more beneficial to your relationship than the one who over stresses, over worries and over works. Remember to take time out to spend some quality time with your loved one.
Looking after number 1 (you) but keeping in mind everyone else is a lot healthier than forgetting about you completely. So on your days off turn your work phone off; remove yourself from your work mode. If you have your work email on your personal phone delete it. Make sure that when home time comes you tell your mind and body you can start to unwind because you deserve it! You made it through the day without feeling angry or stressed. It’s okay to work hard, in fact I encourage it but you’re not doing anyone any favours by working beyond your capabilities. Take some time out to enjoy the things you enjoy and share your time with those who you enjoy being around. Make sure that when you get home, you’re the home version not the work version.
Leave your work boots by the door; you won’t need them again until your next working day.
Do something to make your parents proud today, your kids proud someday but most importantly, you proud everyday!
Peace and Love