The story of a quirky twenty-something who loves cats, cameras and cake, and works as an in-house blogger, content creator & general ideas unicorn. Welcome! Grab a beanbag and make yourself at home. You brought doughnuts, right?
I love that place. It’s practically a second home to me, and I have a lot of great memories of events there. It’s a place my local friends love to go to, and my friends from other cities love to visit. So imagine my surprise when I realised that 90% of my gaming friends couldn’t come to this event with me, because they don’t have vaginas.
1. Realise that a couple of your friends are coming to visit for the weekend. Google the weather. Decide to host BBQ.
2. Get distracted with a tangential discussion about whether isitrainingnow.com is a useful addition to humanity or not.
‘…I suppose you could say that I’m looking for a unicorn,’1 he finished, grinning at me from across the table.
It was an evening a few months ago – March at the latest – and we were sitting in a local coffee shop. He’d sent me an email asking me if I had some time to meet up to talk about a marketing role at his new startup, and I was intrigued enough to accept. ‘He’ is Adam Bird, developer, entrepreneur…and my new boss.
The whole process was a completely new experience for me. There were no interviews, no CVs, no recruiters, no explaining what I do and who I am. Instead, I was sought out from a talk I did at Tech Nottingham last August and a LinkedIn profile that had barely been updated since 2013.
I like to think that my gif had something to do with it.
But it was a risk. It meant a move from a stable company that had tremendous growth, nearly 2 million customers, had basically kickstarted the career I’m so passionate about, let me do whatever I wanted to do all day (blogging and social media), and was my dream job for a long time. More importantly, I love the people there. They’re my family, and they see themselves as such in a lot of cases. It was extremely hard to let go.
Shortly after I started my new job at Cronofy, I got a LinkedIn message from someone I used to work with who had left shortly before I did. At the bottom it said: ‘PS. Surprised to hear you left, given the work that you did for them.’
I think it’s probably not that surprising if you know the events surrounding it, and the general stress that comes with a company growing from maybe 30 odd employees five years ago to hundreds now. I’m grateful for a lot of that, because I got to meet some people who are incredibly important to me, who are interesting and intelligent and I hope I get to work with again at some point in the future. Although everyone keeps saying ‘We’ll still see each other!’ to me, I reserve a special kind of pessimism for that because I have abandonment issues
It’s hard to leave though: I built a lot of the assets and channels from scratch. The later mature, maintaining stages were successful, but there was no getting away from the negativity. Hosting is a difficult industry to be a part of at the best of times, especially when a lot of the problems are caused by users and it’s difficult to explain that in a way that doesn’t make people angry, particularly in 140 characters. As the customer base grows, so do the complainers. Whereas many people in the company worked on a huge sense of scale – their decisions and actions were often based around thousands of customers or websites, and not customer-facing – my side of things was very one-on-one.
I learned how not to take things personally (as best I could, anyway). I learned to tell if someone would cost more money than they made in a single message. I learned how to predict how someone would react and what they would say next before they knew themselves. Professional social media, when it’s done properly, is very much a manipulation game.2
Anyway, over time, my dream job became one of my biggest challenges. Ironically, it stressed me out, and at the same time stopped stressing me out. As soon as I got stressed out by random strangers on the internet telling me they wished my friends and I would die a slow painful death of cancer, or would punch me in the street if they saw me, I would turn to the blogging side of my job. I produced a lot of really good blog entries that calmed me down, and, in many cases, provided a perspective from ‘the other side’. An explanatory, almost board-safe, borderline ‘crisis management team’ approved set of posts.
At some unknown point I’m pretty sure it became an abusive relationship. It made it extremely, unbelievably difficult to let go because there was still a lot I liked (although this decreased over time, particularly when some of my closest friends started leaving). At many companies the social media is done by some poor underpaid assistant or intern.3 In many cases they don’t really care all that much. But I cared a lot. I cared when people weren’t having a good time, I cared about their projects and got excited with them, I cared enough to have a lot of drinks with my friends after a bad day, I cared that they laughed at my jokes or sent me cat memes or Arnie quotes or interesting articles back. I cared enough to work 60 hour+ weeks when I only got paid for 37.5. I cared enough to be tweeting and posting at midnight on a Sunday, at 2am on a Tuesday, to leave endless dinner parties and nights out and half-finished sentences in real life to reply to customers on social media.
Some nights I would finish work, go home, and spend my time talking to the support guys until 1 or 2am, then be woken up by a message from a sysadmin at 5 or 6am. There wasn’t really a time when I wasn’t working (my standard line was ‘If I’m awake, I’m working’), and then on top of that I had all my usual work, extra piles of stuff from various people, separate client work, something vaguely resembling a life, industry events, and about a million other things. People kept telling me to go home, to stop working, and to say no. Then the next time they asked me to do something and I said no, they’d be genuinely really put out. I’m rubbish at time management and saying no. A huge part of that is not being able to recognise when I’m taking on too much, putting maximum effort into all things at all times, and wanting the people I care about to be happy. Over time, two things happened. Other people started to care less. And after a period of sheer frustration, I started to care less.
This is a big deal, because it’s incredibly difficult to make me care less about anything. I have never been one of those people who can say, ‘It’s just work’. I can’t spend 8 hours+ a day doing something I don’t care about. I started being less interested in most work things. I felt better the more I stepped away from it. I started avoiding work nights out. I stopped hosting events for my work friends at my house (or if I arranged something, I’d make sure it was a good mix of people and not just work people). I stopped making cakes. I stopped going to some of the main events I knew I’d see customers at (especially the ones where I knew I’d get face-to-face abuse, or passive-aggressive Twitter abuse). I did some amazing things, and I’m incredibly lucky to have been paid to write about what I love, speak at Google, significantly contribute towards the local (and national, and European) tech scenes, and be part of some great teams. Was it worth it? Of course. Do I have regrets? A few.
The main one being that I should have left sooner.
When I left, I realised something that was really obvious. A lot of my job was being publicly responsible for problems other people had caused, and doing my best to minimise that. And unlike for the first few years, they didn’t really care that they’d caused them (on both sides of the fence).4
But as strange as it might sound, I was very much in my comfort zone. I hate change. And like I said, I have a lot of close friends there. So after my first meeting with Adam, I was still unsure. After discussing it at length with a few people, I realised that there was no bad decision. There were simply two options. And I’ve always been a firm believer that if you don’t like something, you should change it.
So I did.
I didn’t really tell people about it; my notice period was a rather crazy (although not the longest) eight weeks. Towards the end, when I did start to tell people, there were mixed reactions. Some people looked (un?)knowingly at me and said, ‘A startup? That’s going to be really stressful and you’ll have to work really hard, you know,’ as if they thought I did nothing all day. Some people said, ‘Oh, that sounds fun!’ (like I’d said I was going to Vegas or something).5
A week in and my life has changed pretty dramatically.
I carry my laptop around pretty much everywhere with me now as I take it to/from work. Before, I barely used it except for Netflix and online banking as my phone and work computer basically covered everything. Oh, and I bought a purple keyboard that I love.
I have a lot more free time. This has happily coincided with longer spring/summer evenings, so I feel like I have almost a whole extra day after my work day.
I’ve picked up more events and more social things, and I don’t get stressed out by them.
I’m also organised enough to prep and plan my food in advance, which means that I’m eating a lot better, I don’t have that horrible ‘blergh I’ve eaten too much’ slump, and I’m not throwing any food away.
I don’t have to destress on a Friday night/Saturday morning, or get wound up on a Sunday night, which means I get an entire weekend that feels like a weekend.
I feel extremely calm and chilled out 99% of the time.
I get maybe 4-5 emails a day, including automated ones, compared to 200-300 previously.
I work the hours I’ve been given, with perhaps an extra few minutes here and there, but definitely not crazy extra time.
I have more time to explore things I want to do but haven’t had time for, like voluntary baking for charities and food banks.
The only downsides so far are: 1) that I have to get up earlier, although working in the city means that social stuff is easier to get to and there are more places to wander round without getting bored, and 2) I’m out of the house longer, which the cats really dislike. Joe finishes his agency work next week though, so that should make them happier. Totally fine.
I can get so much more done in a day and feel better about it. I’m not responsible for other people’s problems and rants and mistakes and doing maybe 1.5 more entire jobs on top of that.
For the first time in a long time, I feel genuinely happy. I’m not trying to get back to happy. I’m there.
In this context, a marketing person who can understand web developers. ↩
It works like those ‘Choose your ending’ stories, albeit on an occasionally less predictable level. ↩
Unless it made them look bad, in which case they went to elaborate lengths to paint a whole different story. I still distinctly remember coming across an entire presentation once that manipulated, faked, and simply left out stats that were designed to make certain people look good and certain people look bad. At the time I remember wondering why someone had gone to such lengths to hide the truth. I wasn’t a threat to anybody. I don’t ever want to be perceived that way. I like to let my work speak for itself. Apparently others don’t. ↩
Although I am going to Vegas, so maybe they got confused. ↩