A note on not giving up, Part One

Dreams are strange things, aren’t they? I’m not talking about the kind where you run, knee deep in treacle, away from some shapeless looming shadow, and then you’re late for work and have to sit your GCSE Maths exam while clad in just your knickers. No, I’m talking about the ‘goal’ variety of dreams. Since I left university, my life has been plagued by the following type of comments: ‘Well, what have you always dreamed of doing?’ ‘What’s your dream job?’ ‘Where do you dream of going?’ ‘That naked Maths GCSE thing wasn’t a dream, Amelia, it actually happened’. All of those kind of things. On and on. And It wasn’t that I didn’t have aspirations or ambition, I just couldn’t be that specific about them.

Until the age of 21, I’d dreamed of acting. Amongst the dying embers of my university career, I’d suddenly realised it wasn’t the right thing for me at all. My crippling fear of rejection and inability to take criticism being a mere two of the many, many reasons why acting wouldn’t have suited me. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I effectively felt as though the proverbial artsy rug had been pulled from under my jazz shoe-clad feet, and I was left entirely bemused. I knew I could write, and I knew I loved fashion, but I wasn’t insane enough to think I could waltz into a job that utilised those skills, unless it was working on the shop floor in New Look. Safe to say, that wasn’t my goal.

Anyway, I’ve written fragments of my life down on this blog before, and for the voracious readers among you (that’s you, mum) I won’t bore you with repetition. Ultimately, this is supposed to be an upbeat post that will inspire you. So I’ll skip ahead to the start of 2011, a year ago. After signing up to a slew of recruitment agencies, I landed myself a plum job just before Christmas 2010. It utilised my problem-solving skills, my communication skills, and it challenged me on a daily basis. I worked as part of a team, and yet independently too. Can you tell what it is yet, as Rolf would say? Yes, slice through the sheen of CV-polishing and what have you got? A job in a call-centre. The job that most sane people use as a byword for ‘the bottom of the pile’.

Now, I mean no offence to anyone who finds themselves in this line of work. It’s just that, no one is there for a good reason. Nobody goes in and says ‘I come from a noble line of call-centre workers, and I wish to continue in the family tradition’, or ‘Since I was a skipping, happy child, I’ve long since dreamed of working in a call-centre’. The people who interview you don’t even expect you to say this. They don’t care that you’ll be using it as a buffer between school and uni, or between uni and a proper job. There was a smattering of graduates, along with school leavers saving to go travelling, or the recently redundant over-30s. What I’m saying is, no one wants to be there.

The work itself was bad enough. We were essentially dealing with customer complaints for a particular shop, or answering inane inquiries about lost property or opening hours. Usually the complaints would revolve around this kind of scenario: Christmas eve, family all coming tomorrow, all presents ordered from this particular store, then the customer saw the courier company tip the entire lot into the open mouth of a passing dog. Most of the time, people wanted to call up and scream at a human being they didn’t have to look at, to counterbalance the bleak emptiness and shallow consumerism of their own life. Hey – that’s what I used to tell myself when I was shaking and sobbing on the long bus journey home. But ultimately, nothing made me feel better about the fact that we were there as aural punching bags. I was patient, polite and reassuring, as were many of my colleagues, but it made not a jot of difference. If somebody was angry at the company, then you were the one who was going to get hit.

So, that was the actual job itself. But more than anything else, I hated being a ‘call centre worker’. I dreaded having to explain to people what I was doing, hated the thought of doing the rounds with relatives at Christmas and trying to circumvent the actual details of the job. I was looking for other things while I was there, as I believe everyone else was, but I ended up spending two and a half months in battery hen misery. It was more than enough to take a huge toll on me.

You see, I’d had a fantastically protected upbringing! ‘Call centre’ wasn’t in my vast and occasionally Latinate vocabulary. Private school followed private school, then finally followed by my lovely, cosy middle class university. At each and every institution we were told we were special, elite, wonderful. We were going to go forth and do marvellous things! Donning a headset and getting screamed at was not part of the plan. In a way, the call centre and shop work I did was good for me. After all, most graduates do something like that these days, and it made me a bit more grounded. But at the time, I just felt like a huge failure. There were no guarantees that I would get a better job.

I remember meeting a friend who told me, honestly but kindly, that I seemed lost and pretty much directionless. She was right. My dreams were evaporating. I did little in my spare time: the angst of the job and sheer exhaustion from difficult commutes and hellish journeys combining to make me dull and uninterested in doing anything more. I didn’t read. I didn’t go to galleries or the theatre. It had been ages since I’d danced, or exercised, or simply been interested in something. I’d just go home and cry – yes, incredibly pathetic, I’m a disgustingly weak character with no capacity for menial work, but I like to be honest with you, dear readers.

By Christmas, I had no idea what to do. I hadn’t heard back from the one job that I really wanted, I was fed up of dark early mornings and long journeys, and I was going to scream the place down at the next person who called me to tell me their parcel hadn’t arrived. I couldn’t bear to be near a phone in my free time. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but there’s something about the strip lighting and row upon row of workers plugged into headsets with no control over answering calls that seemed terribly Orwellian. The one small glimmer of light I had was writing my food blog. I was terrible about updating it, and I don’t think many people read it, but I truly enjoyed it. Every few Sundays, I’d bake something, photograph it, and write down the recipe online. It wasn’t regular, but it was something that reminded me of who I used to be, before the Big Bad Real World intervened.

So to recap: this time last year, I was thoroughly miserable. I felt like I was going to be stuck in a menial job forever, and largely because I couldn’t even think of anything else I wanted to do. You’re probably wondering where this is going. You’re confused as to why I’ve dragged you here just to read about my misery for 1000 words. Well, I’ll tell you for why. Because a year on, everything has changed.

Read Part Two (aka the bit where it all gets better) here: https://ameliaflorencesimmons.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/a-note-on-not-giving-up-part-two/

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