I was raised on the ‘protestant work ethic’, even though my dad was a Catholic. To be fair, he championed work and play in equal measure. A union man and a sportsman – at one time professional – he certainly worked and played hard himself. It wasn’t a bad philosophy, as far as upbringing goes, but my dad was, and still is, ultra-competitive.
I don’t think of myself as being competitive. I certainly don’t have a ‘killer instinct’ that wants to win at any price, but I can be a bit hyper, always trying to do too much. I don’t do boredom as there’s always way too much to do. I can be impatient, and rarely settle to one thing. I was never going to excel at one particular skill. I was, and still am, always too keen to move onto the next thing, whatever that may be . That transferred into my work life too.
Although routine and repetition is a necessary part of any job, and indeed, an inescapable part of life, I have never accepted that you have to do things you hate, especially where work is concerned. That was not in my dad’s philosophy. Doing things you didn’t like built character. In some respects I’m sure he was right.
When I was a baby I was taken weekly to the hospital for injections to calm me down. I don’t know what was in the injections or why the medical fraternity deemed it necessary to calm an infant down. Apparently I didn’t sleep much, or well. My parents didn’t enquire as to the ‘why’s and wherefore’s’ they simply accepted that doctors knew best and let them get on with it. I suspect I might have been labelled with ADHD if it were now. I’m not claiming I have ADHD, or more likely ADD, but I’m still no closer to settling.
Perhaps all of this is why patience, and putting up with nonsense, is not my strong suit. Until it comes to people. When I gave up my ‘career’ job at 40, and re-trained as an advocacy worker, I discovered that passion and purpose can keep me motivated, whatever labels or temperament I may, or may not, possess.
If I’m doing something I’m passionate about – writing, reading, cooking, photography, working to give people a voice – I can pass the time without stopping for food or ever looking at the clock. It’s a full-speed-tilt-boogie approach with nothing held back or moderated. It lacks staying power, however. I tire. I always want to be onto the next thing.
It’s not that I don’t give things my all. I do. I really go for it. I try to give my best, to get things right. And sometimes I simply try to get things done because I know my interest is waning and I loathe adding something else to my list of unfinished tasks.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a quitter, and I’ve never shunned a days’ work in my life. I’ve worked in Boots, in a hairdressers, a factory, for a tour operator, in a library and various other employment settings. One organisation for 10 years (my record) but the compelling factor has been change, moving on. I was never going to get my gold watch at 65. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. For all my poor qualities and inadequacies, being unable to stick to one thing has given me skills and experiences I would otherwise have missed.
People learn differently, experience the world differently. There should be enough room for everyone to find their place, and feel valued, whatever and however they choose to be employed. Because someone doesn’t stick at one thing doesn’t make them a shirker.
Feel free to discuss!
Picture ‘Scots fisher Folk’ drawn with pen and pencil Samuel G Green DD
from the British Library’s Mechanical Curator Collection.