The other morning, during my usual stop-start snoozing through my alarm clock routine, I heard Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner on Radio 4’s Today programme observing how there is not enough thinking happening nowadays. In spite of my half-conscious state, it made me realise what a pathetic amount of thinking I engage in on a day-to-day basis. I don’t mean to say that I crash and stumble my way through the day without considering anything more taxing than whether anyone has ever died of a peanut M&M overdose. But to say I spend a significant time of my day, or week, truly pondering issues of real importance? Sadly not.
When I was at university, I had to read about two novels a week and on top of that, digest texts about post-colonialism, meta-narrative and new historicism. I read poems 50 times to try and register the author’s every choice of metaphor, alliteration and syntax and squeeze a 2,000-word essay out of my observations. By default, I had to think. ‘Think’ as in: not automatically accept one’s initial assumptions; try to make connections and find patterns; understand abstract concepts.
Fast forward 10 or so years. I often catch myself merely ‘consuming’: I absorb books and films without a lot of critical reflection. I can’t make it through a lull in the day without pulling out my iPhone and scrolling through reams of meaningless drivel in my Facebook ‘news’ feed. I do stuff, then I do other stuff. I don’t really think, or at least not enough.
Why all this thinking about thinking? Well, mainly because I am at the end of my first career break assignment and I need to reflect. Before I left my old job, one of my colleagues gave me a sound bit of advice: to make sure I didn’t just get sucked into something else just because it happened to come along. In other words: to make sure I kept taking a step back and reflecting on my experiences to try and find out what I actually want to do for a living.
So, with the heady Festival excitement subsiding, I need to think. What have I learnt about myself during this period? And what does that tell me about my future career options? I’m going to try and not look at Facebook for 10 minutes and write down some initial thoughts:
- It feels great to really care about your work, and to work in an environment where there is a buzz. You build up to something, and when it’s happening it is all-consuming, adrenaline-fuelled madness. However, it’s hard to avoid falling into the black hole that inevitably opens up once all the confetti has been swept up and the hangover fades. Maintaining some sort of constancy/normality with those ups and downs must be difficult, and it’s no wonder that a lot of the incredible people I have worked with over the past few weeks have had to sacrifice other things (such as relationships) to make it work.
- I actually feel quite at home in an office, and am not sure how I would fare if I were doing hands-on practical stuff all the time. I’m quite an introverted person and do enjoy spending a bit of quiet time behind a computer writing emails and reports and getting organised. However, I’ve really enjoyed being out of the office more frequently, even if it was just to walk across Pavilion Gardens to drop something off at the Dome stage door, or to pop to Tesco to go rider shopping with a colleague. It would be great to have a job that doesn’t involve sitting at a desk all of the time.
- I have really enjoyed working in a younger team. I don’t want to sound ageist when I say this, but I’ve really noticed the difference compared to my last job where almost all senior managers/directors were in the 40-60 age bracket. It’s been more dynamic, fun and relaxed to work with people who are more or less the same age as me. Hierarchies exist everywhere, but I have felt that a younger age profile makes for a less obviously hierarchical set-up which is refreshing.
- Closely related to point 3, working at the Festival has underlined once more how important it is to work with nice people. Being catapulted into the Festival ‘family’ contributed hugely to mitigating the post-work, start-of-career-break angst.
- This one is a bit tricky. I knew salaries in the arts sector would be considerably lower than in the most of the private sector, but I hadn’t realised quite how big the gap would be. According to a recent survey, the average salary in the arts sector is around £7,000 less than the average salary for the UK as a whole. It was a bit of an eye-opener to see people with a huge amount of skill and experience work incredibly hard for much less pay than I received in my previous role. I know I can live on a lot less money than I was earning before, but I do need to think about the ‘job satisfaction vs. salary’ balance. It wouldn’t matter so much if I were still 23, but with my 34th birthday fast approaching, I can’t afford not to be at least a little bit mercenary.
After all that thinking about thinking, my five little points don’t seem ground-breakingly insightful… But it’s a start I suppose. Over the next few weeks I will try to make some space for reflection and further thought. In the mean time: do you make time to think? How do you save yourself from dumbing down? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts!