At approximately 10.50 a.m. on Sunday, 5th January, 2020, I emailed my formal letter of resignation to my boss at Fife Council. The resignation will take effect formally on 21 April, although with accumulated holidays I’m likely to have a final working day at the end of March.
I’ve worked for Fife Council (and its predecessor, Kirkcaldy District Council) for over 30 years now. Although I have, as I keep saying to people, ‘one or two irons in the fire,’ as things stand, I have virtually no paid employment from 21 April. There is no redundancy situation to give me a pay off package. I intend to delay accessing my pension till September, 2022, when I reach the age of 60 and it makes some sort of financial sense to do so.
So what, you might reasonably ask, in hell am I doing? Why am I walking away from a secure professional job without any sort of immediate means of financial security for myself, wife and student daughter?
There’s no certainty in my various answers to that entirely reasonable question. But, briefly:
Because I’ve seen the old guy in the corner of the office, and he looks increasingly like me
We’ve all got one at least of these, in whatever office and whatever profession. It doesn’t really matter what position he’s in, but he knows where the bodies are buried, and he holds the keys to all the closets where the skeletons are kept. Most of all, he knows Stuff. It might be stuff you could get elsewhere, by meticulous research or getting your assistant to dig out, or even just by diving in feet first and hoping for the best, but you don’t have time to do any of these things.
So you go and see the old guy in the corner.
He’s been here forever, and he’s cranky with it. His emails are peppered with allusions you’ll never get, and have a tendency to wander off the point; but he’s got a keen nose for bullshit so you’d better treat him with kid gloves.
Thing is, see, he knows Stuff. He knows you know he knows it, and he knows you’ll have to put up with all the other stuff if you want the skinny on the Stuff. Eventually he’ll be pensioned off and everyone will run around like headless chickens for six months or so until they find they can do without him, but until then he’s irreplaceable.
I’m not the old guy in the corner yet, but with all the retirals around me, I’m getting that way. And in two and a half years, I would be him, hanging on grimly for a package.
Because the glory days have gone
They haven’t, of course. It’s the easiest thing in the world to compare your past professional achievements with what’s currently going on unfavourably. I’m not doing that. Some things that I achieved in the past seemed like big things at the time, but with the telescoping effect of time, seem pretty small scale now. Not all of them, mind, but still…
I’ll give you an example without, I hope, boring you with too much detail. Just before Christmas there was a planning permission needed for what will be a massive inward investment in Fife, bringing thousands of jobs to an area on the very site of the former big employer, a power station. Piloting that through the decision-making process wasn’t straighforward for boring technical reasons I won’t bore you with.
So, a bit like I was that guy in the corner already, they had to come to me. I was like the old salt they drag out of the harbourside bar because he’s the only one that knows where all the rocks in the passage into port are, with the prized man o’war currently lying moored a mile out with a storm a’comin’.
Was it satisfying to guide that planning permission into its mooring? Of course it was. I had to engage my brain to do it. But in years gone past I might well have been the go to lawyer at the heart of all the big stuff around that inward investment: I might have been engaged on the project for months, negotiating, drafting, redrafting, working deep into the night on little else. The piloting past the rocks into port took a few hours out of one week, and then I was right back to management of resources and fielding emails about which of my team have done the right health and safety courses.
Does any of that sound familiar? Then maybe you, my friend, like me, have been in the same place too long.
Because I’ve been in the same place too long
Don’t get me wrong. In those 30 years, I’ve had several different roles in my organisation. I started out a property lawyer, evolved sideways into a bit of planning law, and then, when I moved to the Council’s HQ in 2002, initially got involved in all the big project work that my boss of the time trusted me with. I was lucky enough to do outsourced work for SEStran, a regional transport partnership, so that I had the experience of being the only lawyer and clerk in a small organisation as well. All great stuff.
However, in recent years I’ve had to double down on management, and whether or not I’m any good at it (opinions vary), it’s not the bit I enjoy. I’ve had to not give people I know and like jobs, because I believed that was the right thing to do. I’ve now reached a place where I think I can hand the team over to someone else in the knowledge that they’re in a good place, or at least a much better place than they were. I’ve gone as far as I can. It’s time for someone else to go to the next level.
Because you don’t know how long you’ve got
Last year I went to the funeral of one of my former bosses, the one who gave me the juicy project work back in the day. He retired when he was 56, fit as a flea, and had ten years of retirement until, out of the blue, he got some sort of viral infection to his heart and died. I’m now 57. I’ve seen quite few friends and colleagues die – usually of cancer – at my age or younger. You don’t know how long you’ve got. There’s so much more I want to accomplish, and I don’t want ‘he gave excellent procedural and governance advice’ to be my epitaph. You dig?
When you hit your fifties, in my experience, something changes
I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s not that you can’t do the job – I actually think I’m still improving, in some ways at least. It’s more that it
takes more out of you to do it, physically and mentally. My back hurts from sitting in that damn chair (and yes, I’ve had the Display Screen Assessment, and completed the online course, thanks).
Because I’ve never taken a risk in my whole damn life
I’ve always done what I’ve been supposed to do. As I kid I studied hard and got good exam results; faced with the choice of arts subjects, where my heart lay, and the law, I went with my head and did law. I studied hard enough at Uni to get a good degree; played safe and got a traineeship back in the area I grew up in; and when it became clear my career wasn’t going to progress in the firm I was in, played safe and moved into local government.
Again, I recognise that I was blessed with parents and siblings who encouraged me to make the best I could of myself. Not everyone’s had that head start. But recently…
Recently it’s felt like I’ve always made the exact moves I was supposed to in my life. And there’s a part of me that says, well, the hell with that.
As for my creative life, it feels like I’ve always put an each way bet on that, too. Sure, I’ve published books, stories and poems, had a blast performing spoken word in the past, and now I’m having the best time with music and playing in bands with talented musical folk. But it’s all been done in my spare time – time, which, in reality, has been taken away from time with my family.
I’m not labouring under any grand illusions. I gave up on being the next Hemingway a while back. I don’t think the extra time I hope to spend on writing and performing music will turn me into the next Bruce Dylansteen. But if working part time can give me extra time for doing things where my heart lies, then that’s got to be a good thing. And if just one of my songs reaches out and touches someone, then that’s worth one hell of a lot more to me than giving good procedural and governance advice. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.
Because I have a very particular set of skills
In Taken, Liam Neeson says:
‘I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.’
So, there are some obvious differences between me and Liam Neeson in this context. My daughter hasn’t been kidnapped. My particular skill set doesn’t involve the first clue about killing people. However, I do have a very particular set of skills – anyone would that has done my job over thirty years and was even half-awake for most of it – and I’m looking forward to engaging my brain in using these elsewhere.
In other words, I’m actively seeking gainful (but part time) employment after April.
Or, to quote another action series: if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find me, maybe you can hire me.
(Actually, it’s pretty easy to find me. Use the contact form on this site. Or email. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. But not MySpace. Don’t try to reach me by MySpace).
Tune in after March to see how I’m doing! Or before then of course for the usual nonsense about wine, travel, music, etc., etc….