Welcome to my latest blog.
You may be thinking “Latest? Has he ever done any?”
Alternatively you may be thinking “Yeah. What happened to that previous blog?”
These are both valid questions, and you can be forgiven for thinking either of them. That’s why I’ll answer them now.
Yes. I have done previous blogs and they were (I think) reasonably well received. The feedback was good, anyway, but it could be that people were just being kind. I wrote these back in 2014.
What happened to them? I don’t know, really. I just stopped doing them. No reason. I just stopped. Then I got out of the habit. Maybe my motivation waned.
I have no definitive explanation, but you may have sensed, towards the later blogs in 2014, a distinct edge of stress in my writing. Without going into detail here, something happened in my professional life (my day job) that, at the time, had a very detrimental effect on my personal wellbeing.
I think it hit me harder than I acknowledged. It didn’t stop me in my tracks. It didn’t prevent me from getting on with things. What it did do, I think, is stifle my creative mojo.
I’ve really not done a lot of writing; neither songs, stories nor poems since that time. I’ve done a bit, but not a lot. I was once described by a Canadian songwriter as a prolific lyricist. I certainly haven’t lived up to that description since 2014.
Often you hear of a writer’s block and this is simply what I put it down to at the time. Upon reflection it seems coincidental that the block started at around the same time as the work trauma.
Of course, this is the amateur psychologist in me, saying that my block must have been due to some sort of PTSD.
Please don’t get me wrong, there are people out there with real PTSD; Afghan/Iraq veterans and crime victims to name but a few. I wouldn’t dream of trying to compare my seemingly petty experience with what these people are going through. It was, however, and still is, pertinent to me.
Please accept my apologies for arousing your curiosity, because unfortunately I have no plans of going into detail about what happened here. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until I retire in eight and a half year’s time, when I’ll be free to comment a little bit more. Even then I’ll still be bound by certain legislation if I don’t want to find myself on the wrong end of a judge’s wrath.
Needless to say, I feel that what happened is one of the most unfair things that I have personally experienced in my career to date. Unfortunately, for reasons of self-preservation, I have allowed it to change and define me. It still affects me now and is, frustratingly, still not wholly resolved. It represents one of the major negative imbalances of power that affects me and many of my colleagues every day. I resolve that one day I will write about it to some degree, but not today.
Please forgive the huge digression, but I’m just trying to analyse what it was that stole my mojo, back in February 2014.
Since then, there has been much happening in my life, both positive and negative.
I’ll share with you my milestones, but the challenge will be to keep it interesting. Forgive me if I fall short.
June 2014: I left the role I had been in for over 6 years to a new role at work. The catalyst for this had been the events of February 2014, so the move was welcome, but a new challenge.
New challenges always bring uncertainty, and in my case, with uncertainty comes bags of self-doubt. That said, I clearly did alright in my new role and somehow must have impressed who I needed to impress. Within six months I was granted a much sought after promotion. The promotion, however, wasn’t official and was just on a temporary basis.
December 2014: As stated, I was given a temporary promotion, which although positive, was a bit of a poison chalice. (I say, “given” a temporary promotion, but this is typical me, being too humble and self-depreciating. In fairness, I wasn’t “given” anything. I had actually worked really hard and earned something that was long overdue. It’s only now, some three years on, that I’m beginning to realise that).
When in a temporary promotion you feel constant pressure to prove yourself, especially if, like me, you are constantly pricked by self-doubt. I am embarrassed to say that the weight of the constant threat of immediate demotion turned me into a bit of a “yes man”. I didn’t want to rock the boat too much, and I caused myself ridiculous amounts of stress in trying to keep the boat steady.
I’d already had my mojo dented and this temporary position was denting it even more.
It was strange. I could feel it. I could see it. I hated it, but felt powerless. Here I was, with the promotion I had been craving, but I was unhappier (at work) than I had ever been. I felt ungrateful; like a fraud. Surely I shouldn’t be in this position. Should I give the promotion back and return to how I was? There’d certainly be less mither, but the money was good. Financially we were better off. My pension would be far better in future. My wife was proud. My mum was proud. I had friends who were proud. The only one who wasn’t proud was me. Why was this? I really don’t know.
Then the official promotion process re-opened. Due to unprecedented government cut backs, there had been a freeze on promotions for years and now, suddenly, they were open again.
There came the inevitable scramble to enter into a process that was highly competitive and different to any previous process. Everyone going for it was out of their depth, me included. Literally hundreds of good quality, professionally capable people had been awaiting this moment. Consequently the competition was stiff and there was plenty of it.
I’d been temporary for just a few months and I still wasn’t confident, but I was supported by local management when other colleagues weren’t. I was further supported by the central panel, when other, far more capable, colleagues were knocked back. It was a game; say the right things on the application, tick the right boxes and you were winning. I was now well and truly in this game and I got myself a final interview.
My mum was so proud and so excited for me. She paid about £250 for me to attend an interview skills course. It was good. It got me focussed and I was ready.
The day came and unfortunately I was awful. I’d go as far as to say it was probably one of the worst interviews I have ever had. From the moment I opened my dry, nervous mouth I knew I was awful. Every word I uttered echoed back at me with the sound of rank awfulness. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t claw it back. The more I tried, the more I spluttered embarrassing awfulness from my quivering lips. In fact the harder I tried the faster I got at spewing bile.
I’d like to say that the process was unfair. I’d like to say that the interviewers were oppressive and unhelpful, but I can’t. They tried. They really tried to pull out the best of me, but I made it impossible for them. No matter how they tried they really couldn’t polish a turd.
I knew that it was a futile effort, but I am always very pragmatic about these things. I am a believer that it will happen when it’s meant to happen and none of it is personal. It just wasn’t my time. In fact, you must always try to take the positives from these things and this was a valuable learning experience.
I do think that had I gone on a different day, or at a different time on that day, I may have done better. It’s like when you pick up a crossword on Tuesday and can’t fathom it, but you pick it up on Wednesday and you’re all over it. I think it was one of those anomalies of cognitive function. My brain, for whatever reason, was simply not engaged that day.
All candidates had to wait several weeks for the result, but I knew what was coming. I was under no illusion whatsoever.
The time came and I got a text off a colleague, saying the results were out. I was at home with my wife, Angie, and I called one of the Senior Leadership Team, a chap called Mr. Barton, who had the unenviable job of giving out the results, both positive and negative, to multiple candidates.
Angie watched on eagerly, with hope in her eyes. It felt like she was holding her breath and I couldn’t understand why. I suspected, very strongly, that her unwavering hope would be dashed by disappointment. It seemed like I was the only one with realistic expectations of this ‘phone call.
Bear in mind that Mr. Barton is a very serious fellow, with not much by way of a sense of humour. He was in the process of delivering disappointment to many people with these results, and was ringing round people one by one. Bear in mind the fact that instead of waiting for his call (I just struggle doing that) I called him and caught him on the hop. Bear in mind the fact that I had already come to terms with the inevitable, so wasn’t in the least bit downhearted about it. Bear in mind the fact that I have a rather eccentric sense of humour, which is not always appropriate for the occasion. This conversation was never destined to go well.
“Mr. Barton”, I said, cheerfully. “It’s Darren Whitehead. I believe the results are out.”
“Erm. Yes, Darren. They are”, came the firm, rather stern reply. I’d clearly caught him on the back foot by ringing him instead of waiting for him to ring me.
“Well”, I said. “Do I need to get myself a length of rope and a stool or a flute of champagne?”
The reply was even sterner, with a real sense of unease.
“Darren, you’ve put me in a very difficult position, because it’s not good news.”
Suddenly the realisation hit me. This result was so important to some people that there was a real, tangible risk of mental breakdown. Mr. Barton was indeed in a difficult position.
I wondered why Angie had rolled her eyes when I asked the question the way I did, and in a split second of stark realisation, I now knew why.
“It’s ok, Mr. Barton”, I spluttered. “I suspected as much anyway”.
I was scrambling with my words, trying to reassure him; trying to put as much positivity in my tone as I could, to convince him that I wasn’t going to string myself up from the nearest tree.
At the same time, I was stinging, from seeing the hope ripped from Angie’s eyes.
“Well, Darren”, the tone was even harsher now. There was a very serious air to his voice. “I have to challenge that comment about a length of rope and a stool.”
I clearly hadn’t convinced him that I was ok, so I needed to try harder.
“I’m sorry, Sir”, I replied, with a tone of genuine embarrassment. “You’ll have to forgive my sense of humour. It’s not always appropriate.”
There was a pause and I clearly needed to try harder.
“The promotion is important to me, Sir, but it’s not THAT important. I assure you I’m fine. I’d already come to terms with the result anyway so it was expected.”
“I’m here with my wife. I’m safe. I promise you, Boss, that it’s just my sense of humour.”
There came an unimpressed reply, but he got it and, deep down … maybe very deep down, I think he appreciated my refreshing approach to failure.
So now my future hung in the balance. In fairness, I’d had my chance and I blew it. I knew that the end was in sight for my temporary promotion and it was simply a matter of time before I was unceremoniously kicked from my elevated pedestal. Maybe it would be a blessing in disguise. The constant stress of trying to prove myself every day really was beginning to take its toll on me. Maybe the demotion wouldn’t be so bad.
There was a huge restructure planned at work, which would affect every team and every individual in some way. All staffing had to be looked at. It was only a month or so away, and my temporary standing was to be reverted in the restructure. I was scheduled to go onto a different team, in a lower position. It was no surprise. I knew it was coming, so I was well prepared.
That is until about two weeks before the day of the restructure. A person on a different team, who was temping up at a lower rank to me, mentioned to me that I was being kept at my temporary rank after the restructure. Apparently his (permanently promoted) boss had resigned and that position in the new restructure was to be filled by me, continuing in a temporary promoted role.
Whilst this was good news, it was annoying. How did someone, lower in rank, from a different team know my destiny before I did? Why was I finding out this way? Apparently this was one of the worst kept secrets in the organisation. Quite a few people knew. Quite a few people except me.
I decided to ask my boss about it. I thought it was completely unacceptable, but, with my position being so precarious, I chose to keep the boat steady when I asked about it. Regardless, she was livid. She was clearly not happy that this news had leaked out, but she gave me no answers. She neither confirmed, nor denied the rumour, which was unhelpful.
Anyway, the rumour was indeed true. An unexpected resignation created an opportunity for me to stay in my temporary position. I was initially told it would be for six months (I’d already had six months and you usually get a twelve month stint).
It wasn’t long before the six months were up, but by now the promotion process had started again. I was desperately clinging onto my position in the hope I could get through the next process … and this time be successful.
The job was good to me and I kept my position. I knew, however, that I simply had to get through this time. I knew that if I didn’t make the grade on this occasion then it would be over and demotion would soon follow.
When the process started the application was virtually the same as the previous year, but with a greater word allowance, so I amended it slightly and used that. It had got me all the way through to a final interview the previous year, so I knew it was good. There were a few other new stages added (all candidates had to make an “inspiring” video and we had to do a written exercise). Everything would be marked collectively and then a decision taken as to whether you would be offered a final interview or not.
I was happy with my video (although it was a bit Ricky Gervais), happy with my application and unsure about my written exercise. I was, however, quite confident about getting a final interview. Unfortunately, when the results came out I was 1% shy, so didn’t get as far as the interview stage.
The feedback was surprising; poor marks on the application form, poor marks on the video and good marks on the written exercise. This was completely the opposite of what I expected. My application form was the eyebrow raiser as it scored well the year before, but the latest marking was very different. I appealed, but got nowhere.
As usual, I was pragmatic. This was it for my temporary promotion, it had to be. The writing was on the wall and I knew it.
My poor mum, who was always in my corner, was gutted. She wasn’t half as pragmatic as me. In fact, she wasn’t very pragmatic at all. My mum had a different approach to my failure and she was furious. She wasn’t mad at me, but at my bosses, (who it had nothing to do with, by the way). She was aggrieved about what “they had done” to her boy. When I explained that it wasn’t personal and was simply a process she wouldn’t have it. She threatened to telephone my bosses and give them a piece of her mind. I persuaded her not to do this.
I don’t actually know how she’d have achieved this if she’d tried. I can imagine the conversation on the switchboard, particularly when you consider that the organisation has well over 8,000 employees.
“Ere. I’m ringing about our Darren. It’s not fair what they’ve done to him. Is his boss there?”
I didn’t think my mum’s call would have reached any of the bosses, but when I saw the boss later that day, I tipped her the wink, just in case she did get a call from a furious Mrs. Whitehead.
Anyway, in short, I failed, my appeal failed and my mum never did ring the boss.
So what about my temporary promotion? Well … I don’t know how … I have no idea why, but I managed to cling onto it.
The next milestone in my life was a huge trauma, a huge turning point and also a huge stepping stone. It had nothing to do with my career. Career wise, I was plodding on and keen to keep my position.
This next milestone was in my personal life. I was in work one afternoon in late August 2016, when I received a call from the sheltered housing complex where my mum was living. Nothing too concerning, but they had called an ambulance because she didn’t look right.
Of course, I dropped work, called my wife and we made our way to the hospital. We got there before the ambulance did.
My mum came into A&E and she seemed in good spirits. Her breathing wasn’t best ever and she was weak, but this wasn’t unusual for my mum. To cut a long story short she had a collapsed lung and an infection so needed a chest drain. She was admitted to a ward as an in-patient.
There then followed a roller coaster journey of highs and lows. After roughly four weeks my beautiful mum passed away in quite traumatic circumstances. I’m not going to go into detail in this blog, but I may do in future. Needless to say that both myself and Angie were left devastated, shocked, emotionally scarred and numb at the same time. This feeling lasted and didn’t initially ease. It wasn’t the fact of my mum’s passing. I am generally very balanced about these things. Old people die. It is the commonly accepted way of things; the orders of Mother Nature. The fact that we had lost my mum was devastating, but comprehendable. It was how she ventured into death which shook us. It shook us to seismic proportions. We considered counselling as an option as we both felt unable to move forward.
Of course, in the aftermath of my mum’s passing, I needed time to consolidate. We both did. My boss was fantastic and without a second thought gave me as much paid time off as I needed. This was welcome, because not only did I have my mum’s death to come to terms with, but I had all the time-consuming, practical things to do, such as organising the funeral and sorting out her estate.
My mum had two homes when she died. In the April she had moved into an extra care sheltered housing facility. She kept her own house on in case it didn’t work out, allowing her the option of moving back should she desire. Her own house was owned outright. The sheltered housing was a rented property.
My mum had very quickly made friends at the sheltered housing complex, and her social life had blossomed. She was settled and loving it when she took ill.
In effect, she had less than six months there before she passed and I genuinely feel that life ripped her off. She had so much more fun and so many more laughs to have, but fate stole these from her.
The front line staff at the sheltered housing complex were fantastic. They had given my mum a new lease of life and in death they were genuinely sympathetic and caring. Some were visibly upset.
Within two or three days of my mum’s passing, however, I got a call from the management of the complex, offering their condolences. I’d like to say that this was heartfelt. At first, I thought it was, until the real reason for the call became apparent. The contract requires four weeks notice to quit, but they could allow two weeks under the circumstances. It was as if they were doing me a favour. Because my mum had died, she was no longer entitled to assistance in paying her rent, so we had to physically pay two weeks rent. That was a bit of an unecessary kick in the teeth, but then came the second part. The flat needed emptying of all property within two weeks at the latest … and they really needed me to be getting on with it. Again this felt insensitive as I was still planning my mum’s funeral.
As usual, I was ever the pragmatist, but it felt quite a cold-hearted thing to do, disguised as a call offering condolences. Of course, it also ramped up the pressure somewhat.
Needless to say, this period of my life is iconic for various reasons.
Once the initial shock wave of losing my mum was over, we then had to consider her estate. This all takes time, of course, and trying to tie up all loose ends was problematic. My mum left a very efficient estate. Her funeral was pre-paid, she had an up to date will and her house was in trust to myself and Angie. I am an only one, so it was as simple as simple can be. Even so, closing bank accounts, pension payments, gas accounts etc., is a minefield. There’s always something you forget.
We got there in the end, of course, but it wasn’t as easy as I had anticipated.
I went back to work after a month. Things were nowhere near sorted, but we had made huge strides.
It seemed like no time at all before I was stuck into work again, busy as ever and just plodding on.
Whilst I had been off work the decision was made to move me to a different location. It wasn’t what I wanted, but being in a temporary post, and a tenuous one at that, I wasn’t in a position to argue. I’m also of the mindset that I work for a disciplined organisation and I will do as I am told. So, in November 2016 I moved to a different location and was now managing a different team.
Work was work. It was all much of a muchness and I settled in and just got on with things.
Homelife, on the other hand was a little more difficult. Not the family stuff. For the last eleven years, since I met Angie, she has always been my one constant; my rock; my go to place. She doesn’t always say what I want to hear, she tells it how it is and she unfailingly calls me out for any bullshit but, without a shadow of a doubt, she’s always in my corner. The difficulties I speak of are the ripples from losing my mum.
Both Angie and I were dealing with it. We decided we didn’t need counselling and we just cracked on.
The difficulties were mainly practicalities. My mum had a house full of stuff. Some stuff was good stuff, to my taste. Some stuff was good stuff, not to my taste. Other stuff was just stuff. My mum had a heart made not just of gold, but of diamonds and gold; gold and diamonds of the highest carat. As such, she couldn’t bring herself to part with anything with even the remotest sentimental value.
She kept every card ever sent to her. She kept every piece of ornamental tat that I ever bought her; every letter; every Christmas decoration; every piece of cheap costume jewellery. Going through my mum’s stuff and sorting out the good, the bad and the ugly was physically exhausting but it was also a huge emotional challenge. It was time consuming, filled with various moments of forced ruthlessness mixed with the odd tear or two.
Eventually we got there. Our little house was full to bursting with stuff, to the point where we rented two storage units.
My mum’s house was now on the market. This also came with it’s share of problems and stress but we were getting on with things and the future was looking brighter.
My mum and dad worked tirelessly when I was growing up, to put a roof over my head, food in my belly and to create security. We weren’t rich, by any means but my mum and dad did have foresight. Way back in the late 1960’s/very early 1970’s, they decided to buy their own house. My dad passed away in February 2009 and when my mum left us, she had absolutely no debt whatsoever. Between my parents, apart from providing me with a fantastic childhood, they had collectively left the legacy of the house and a small pot of savings.
The house was now owned outright by both myself and Angie. Apart from the tragic circumstances, it was like a lottery win. It goes without saying that I would gladly take back my mum and dad in exchange for the money any day of the week. That, however, is not possible so we have to do the next best thing and make the most of what my mum and dad left us.
Back in work, as time passed, the writing really was on the wall for my temporary promotion. My temporary extensions in rank were getting shorter and shorter. I had been the longest person to hold a temporary position at that level. Other people were pushing through, desperate for their shot. The pressure was on the Senior Leadership Team to justify why I was still in my position and it was getting harder and harder to do so. Time had passed and it was now April 2017. My last extension was for one month. I knew what was coming, so when I spotted a position on a different unit, advertised for applications at the same level, I was interested. It would mean a move away from operational and into the strategic world, which I did not really want, but it was a means to an end. Without the move, I would be demoted for sure. The position, however, was a minimum twelve month tenure. For me, it was a no brainer, so I applied.
I am pleased to state that my application scored the highest by far and I was offered the job. It’s important to say, however, that I also scored the lowest. I was actually the only applicant.
Having been the only applicant it would have been a tad embarrassing if I didn’t get the job. Needless to say I changed roles in May 2017. I wasn’t looking forward to the new role, but it was needs must. As it so happens, I actually really enjoyed it. Being in a strategic role, where I could use my imagination a bit, helped release some of my creativity. It also gave me much more rounded examples for when the next promotion process started.
Outside of the pressures of work we were still trying to sell my mum’s house. It had been on the market for some time and, after much stress and a change in estate agents, we accepted an offer and the house was eventually sold on 16th June 2017.
Up until then, this valuable asset had attracted bills and extra financial burdens. Simply insuring an empty house, for example, was very costly. Because we owned the house there was no grace period for council tax, so we were paying council tax for almost nine months for services we never used. Keeping an empty property is surprisingly expensive.
The 16th June 2017 was financially a turning point for us. Having previously been struggling; me having historically come off the back of two failed relationships, a divorce and ongoing child maintenence. We were finally in a much stronger position. Any debts could be cleared and we had enough for a really decent deposit on a bigger house.
We started to search. We eventually found what seemed to be the perfect house for us. We negotiated a price and all was going well.
Just before my mum passed away she told Angie and I that she wanted to pay for us a holiday. We had looked but found nothing we really wanted, but now she had gone it felt very important that we go away in my mum’s memory. We booked for Cyprus and whilst there, on 13th July 2017 the new house sale fell through.
It was disappointing because we had our heart set on this beautiful house. As I’ve already stated, however, I am forever the pragmatist. It might sometimes seem like I don’t care but that would be inaccurate. I do care. I do suffer disappointment. I just try not to let that disappointment define me, nor even define my day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as good at sulking as anyone else and I certainty do have my dark moments. In the main, however, I’m a “pick yourself up and brush the dust off your arse” kinda guy.
So again, I’ve digressed, but the point I am badly trying to make is that, despite the disappointment, it wasn’t long before I was splashing in the pool, trying not to lose my shorts. The frustation didn’t last long and certainly didn’t ruin the holiday that my mum sent us on.
Once we came home
the house hunting started again. Angie was relentless. It became almost an obsession for her and it paid off.
She spotted a beautiful property, in an area we both liked and, thanks to the legacy of my mum and dad, it was affordable for us.
We viewed it and fell in love straight away.
We were in Surrey the day after the viewing with our dog at Supervet. (That’s a story for another blog). We decided to put an offer in via the estate agent. The estate agent was an online agent and, to shorten an otherwise long and boring story, they were next to useless. It was frustrating, because we were left unconvinced that our offer had been put to the seller. We certainly didn’t want someone else getting in there first. Me being me, and being (just a tad) unconventional, I decided to stalk … I mean, track down … the seller on Facebook and send him a direct message, thus cutting out the estate agent. He responded and we entered into direct negotiation. We agreed a price and started to progress the sale. All was going well and we were now well on the way to buying the house. After the disappointment of the previous property, this was quite an exciting time.
There was one issue. The affordability of the mortgage was reliant upon me turning my temporary position at work into a permanent promotion, so there was a lot resting on work. That decision was an uncertainty, but we took a risk and went for it regardless.
The promotion process came around soon enough, and in September 2017, I found myself applying once more. The process had changed (again) and was now being done in line with the National Promotion Framework. The new process measured against Behavioural Competencies as opposed to the previous processes, which were measured against Leadership Expectations.
There was now no paper sift. The application form was nothing more than an expression of interest. Everyone who applied got an assessment day. Mine was on 10th November 2017.
I’d been advised from September to prepare, prepare, prepare for it. Unfortunately I didn’t heed this valuable advice. I value my days off work. I value my evenings off. I value the time with my family. I value these things more than gold. This meant that the only time to prepare, prepare, prepare would be in work.
Unfortunately, I am too conscientious at work. All my work time focussed on work and not on the game of preparing for an assessment.
What did this mean in real terms? Well what this meant was I’d done very little, if anything. In fact … I’m kidding myself. I’d dont nothing; nowt; nada.
I decided to take off the week leading up to my assessment day to prepare. This was the first time I had even looked at Behavioural Competencies. This old dinosaur was still thinking about Leadership Expectations.
The time off gave me four days of preparation. Would it be enough? It was doubtful. I was kicking myself.
On Monday I studied the strategic direction of the organisation. The information released about the assessment day said we had to understand this, so understand it I would. I crammed for about eight hours. I still hadn’t looked at Behavioural Competencies.
On Tuesday I went to a friend’s house. He was studying for the same process. Going through interview questions with him made me realise exactly how unprepared I was. His view was that I’d wasted a day studying the organisational strategy as we wouldn’t be tested on it. He was too polite to say it, but I think he genuinely felt that I’d done way too little, way too late. As our study progressed I couldn’t have agreed more. I could find nothing in the bank that reflected the Behavioural Competencies. I had not pepared any examples. Sure, I had been doing stuff at work on a daily basis, but I was clueless on how to translate this into this new process. My head was well and truly stuck far up my twitching backside.
On the Wednesday I was back with my buddy. Having refined some interview examples on Tuesday night, having honed them to reflect the Behavioural Competencies I felt better; not great, but better. Wednesday, however, completely reaffirmed that I was still painfully unprepared for the day. I drove home really kicking myself … which doesn’t make for a safe drive.
I spent Thursday at home. The assessment day would consist of a written exercise. I didn’t know what this would be, so I couldn’t prepare. All I knew is that it would be an in-tray exercise. I figured in advance that it would be a whole bunch of memos, emails and information that would all need prioritising, decisions and comments. I also figured that there would be too much information to absorb in the limited time of 90 minutes. I don’t think there was a great deal of effective preparation I could do for this, because I was going in blind. Another part of the assessment was a role-play scenario which would, doubtless be a complex staffing issue or a customer service problem. Again, I felt it was one of those where you either knew your stuff or you didn’t. I also felt that the role-play would naturally lend itself to my personality, so again, I didn’t prepare for this. Then there would be four interview questions. We didn’t know in advance what each stage would be exactly, but we did know which specific Behavioural Competencies would be tested in each stage.
The general advice for competency based interviews is to have two examples for each question. This would mean eight examples and I was struggling for one. Eventually, by scraping the deep depths of my dark and dusty mind, I managed to come up with four examples only. It would be a matter of luck as to whether the questions fell my way and, in fairness, luck hadn’t traditionally been on my side with these things.
Friday 10th November 2017 arrived. I set off for the assessment day. It’s fair to say that I was anxious. It felt like I’d swallowed a bucketful of angry butterflies. Whilst driving to the assessment centre, I tried to calm myself and boost my confidence from some tricks I learnt when preparing for a charity firewalk (subject for another blog). I was going through these routines in my head, over and again, and it was doing the trick. I started to calm down and feel a bit better.
“It’s going to be ok”, I said aloud to myself, confidently.
I then glanced to my right to see a single magpie flying through gravestones in a church yard.
“No. I’m going to die”, I exclaimed.
When I got to the assessment centre the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed. I was in a cohort of eight people, one of whom was a direct work colleague. It was quite a chilled out assessment day, unlike any other I have been on.
My four examples fit perfectly with the interview questions. All my nerves left me and I felt good throughout the day. I came away feeling quietly confident. Actually, I came away feeling I had stormed it, so I was rather pleased. At last I felt like I was in with a shot, at a time that really mattered.
It wasn’t until December when the results came out. I hadn’t given it much of a second thought as it’s in the lap of the Gods once the assessment is done. There is nothing you can do to affect it so thinking about it only causes anxiety. The results deadline arrived … and passed. It was frustrating and it caused me to start dwelling on it. I think I must be a world champion at over thinking because, by the time I had done with myself, I convinced myself that I’d failed so badly they were considering putting me to sleep.
The weekend came and went and we were now into Monday. Everyone was now anxious and the rumour mill started as to the results not being out for another fortnight.
It was the following day, Tuesday 5th December 2017, that I got a ‘phone call from the boss. I was at an event with some of my staff and staff from the local authority. My heart skipped. Everyone knew what I was waiting for so there were several hearts in several mouths. Unfortunately the boss wanted something else and the call was nothing to do with the results.
“Bloody Hell, Boss!”, I exclaimed to him. “I thought it was the results.”
“They’re out later today, Cocker”, came the reply.
This particular boss is a jovial character. He doesn’t suffer fools, but he’s a genuinely nice guy. We also went to the same school and grew up in the same village, so we know each other on a personal level, which would explain his very personable approach … and why I feel comfortable swearing at him.
“I’ll make sure you’re the first to know when they come through”, he promised.
Now the adrenalin was going. I excitedly told my colleagues that the results would be out so I’d be disappearing to take the call when it came.
It was important to me that as soon as I knew the result I let Angie know, before any of my colleagues found out, which is why I planned to take the call out of the room.
About half an hour passed and I got the call. I scurried out of the room. All my colleagues were awaiting my return eagerly.
The news was fantastic. I’d passed with one of the higher scores of all candidates. This had been a long day coming and I was ecstatic. I was told, however, by the boss not to announce it to my colleagues until every candidate had been told their results. Of course, I was the first to find out, so I had a bit of a wait before I could dance a public jig.
I immediately called Angie and gave her the news. I think she was happier than I was and she actually cried.
I then had the difficult task of returning to my eager colleagues, whilst keeping a poker face. In fact, so poker was my face that they thought I’d failed. There were a few uncomfortable shuffles and awkward glances, but nobody asked me. I think they didn’t want to see a grown man cry.
I decided to put them out of their awkward misery a little by telling them that I couldn’t reveal any result until all candidates knew. I told them that I might have passed, I might not, but all would be revealed in good time. I still kept a poker face and still kept them guessing … which I quite enjoyed, in a sadistic, power hungry sort of way.
The result, for me, was more than just the kudos of passing; more than pride; more than a success. The result helped to secure our future. It gave us reassurance about our mortgage. It meant that I wasn’t going to get demoted. It meant so much and it felt amazing. After three years of being temporary, I could finally say I was there.
One regret is that my wonderful mum never got to see me pass.
That was 5th December. On 15th December 2017 we completed on the house sale and moved in. Moving house, as many people can relate to, is a stress. Moving house just before Christmas is a real stress, but so much worth it.
We are very fortunate to have found the house, at the right time, in the right neighbourhood. We are very fortunate that our neighbours either side and opposite are all really nice people. We have made new friends and we both feel like we have landed firmly on our feet. The disappointment of the first house sale falling through was most definitely a beautiful blessing in disguise.
So that’s a nutshell, condensed version of the last four years. We’ve had great times, but I also feel that I’ve had some real stresses and sometimes found myself being a much darker version of my usual self.
There’s more to the last four years, of course; much more. In time I may share some of this with you. That said, I’m not one for reflecting on the past unless it’s a fantastic memory or a valuable lesson.
So what have I learned from the last four years? I’ve learned to trust myself more. I’ve learned that anyone can find themselves in a dark place. I’ve learned that no matter how dark it gets there’s always a way to find light. I’ve also learned what I already knew; when you have someone amazing in your corner you can breathe a little easier. I’ve learned to keep trying. I’ve also learned to rock the boat sometimes.
This blog has taken me about a week of snatched moments to write; bits and bats here and there. It is my new next door neighbour, Pete, who has inspired me to start writing again and I can’t thank him enough. As I conclude this blog, I am sat onboard a Boeing 767 aircraft, on the tarmac at Manchester Airport. We are waiting to set off to Kos for one week. Our flight has missed its slot and we have been delayed for over 90 minutes. We endured excessive heat with no air conditioning on the plane for over thirty minutes. There were hundreds of stressed people and dozens of stressed babies. As I looked around at all of these over-heated people, I considered my life journey and thought to myself that it’s all cool.
I am so grateful to my mum and dad, to Angie and to my amazing family.
We’ve come so far and I’m exceptionally excited about what’s ahead.
If you’ve enjoyed this read then watch this space for future blogs. I hope to keep them coming and maintain a bit of creative mojo. If you haven’t enjoyed it then don’t worry … I’m off for a week to Kos, so I’ll not worry either.
In the meantime feel free to check out the website of the guy who inspired me to get blogging again. It is here.
Until next time …