Nicky's Blog

Good Times With Old Friends

Yesterday morning felt warmly nostalgic.

Hurriedly trying to walk the dog to make sure he'd done his business so the wife didn't have to worry about doing it later. Trying to rush through the shower whilst putting in a half decent effort to make myself presentable. Eye fixed on the time to make sure I was on schedule. Checking bus and train times to make sure I didn't miss anything. The stupid smile on my face.

I was off to meet the team again. Well, the old team at any rate.

My last job had one long learning curve.

I had some project knowledge through my degree, but nothing professional, and realistically not a lot of practical experience. After five years as a call handler going nowhere fast and ambitions to own my home, provide for a family, and not spend most of my hours working shifts between 8am and 8pm bored out of my skull explaining to people that no, their pet isn't covered for dental conditions and yes, gingivitis is a dental condition, I felt it was time for a change.

The first hurdle was networking. I knew it was a thing people did, just not quite how. Like a lot of social interactions for me at the time, it didn't quite make sense. How do you make the 'ask', and who do you know to ask? How do you even start getting into a field with no credentials, no experience, and no clear in.

Turns out, as with most things, you just start.

We'd recently changed team leaders for the fourth time, and my new one was known for pushing her team to advance. I told her what I wanted to do, and she made the introduction with one of the change consultants in the company. That led to another consultant, which helped build my reputation. From there it was another IT guy, and another, until eventually I was talking with the Head of Automation about a business analysis role.

Two problems: I knew nothing about Automation, and nothing about business analysis. That probably should have scared me off, and it nearly did, but I figured I'd got this far. Just ride the wave and see where it lands.

It landed on a telephone interview, which I meticulously prepped for. CV was printed. Notes written on automation and agile project management, which was required for the role. Interview questions prep done with an older TL. Seven or eight pages in front of me on the kitchen table, and my phone ready for the call.

Only the call never came.

Turns out it was a conference call, which was the one thing I didn't think off. I tried calling the recruitment manager, but no-one answered. I tried emailing but no answer. And I have a 12pm-8pm shift to do the rest of the day.

Right at the end of the shift, I sucked it up and wrote James, the Head of Automation I'd been dealing with. Channeling Randy Pausch, I held my hands up, I screwed up, apologised, and thanked him for the opportunity. Next day I got a response.

'Fancy another go?'

Hell yeah I do.

It didn't take long for me to question that decision.

I got the role, at the same time as moving house and moving in with my then-girlfriend-now-wife for the first time, and starting the last module of my degree (which I went on to fail; something had to give somewhere). Those first six months of trying to prove myself worthy of the opportunity led to two panic attacks, several mini-breakdowns, and a lot of tears and pain.

To top it off, I was for all intents and purposes alone for the first time in my career. It not that I didn't have a team, but we were scattered across the country. My team lead was up north, my colleagues in the midlands and London, and then there was me in the East of England, sitting at my makeshift desk with my dog barking at the postman. Having spent years surround by my team in a loud and busy office, it had the real potential to completely overwhelm me.

But it didn't, because my team were amazing.

Jim, the guy who was covering projects with me in the same business area, set up a daily call with me from the get go. Every day at 3pm we'd log into Teams, either to hash out a piece of work, talk about what's coming up, or more often than not shoot the breeze. In Jim, I'd found someone able to lift me up, hold me to task, whilst also expecting me to hold him to tasks and push each other. We had a solid, united front together.

Our manager, Tina, would occasionally join the calls when she weren't swamped with her own work. I've had some good bosses in my time, but I really lucked out for a while there. One of the first panic attacks was in the office, and I very nearly just walked out, go do my own thing, wrap myself in cotton wool and hope the day fades away. She didn't let me, which normally would've got my heckles up, but she challenged me, worked through it with me, got me through it so I can get on with my day. That wasn't the last time her patience and encouragement were needed, and she made time for it everyday.

Between Jim being a solid rock of a teammate and TIna being a fiercly supportive leader, I was able to produce work I was actually proud off. It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows; there were a lot of real grinds and bursts of wanting to quit and escape, but the team made me want to continue. I couldn't let them down.

And the redundancy struck, and the team was done.

That was three years ago, and we all ended up going our separate ways. Tina managed to get repositioned, but recently took another role. Jim's had a few roles but has landed on his feet. And I went in a completely different direction, but still. A job's a job.

With the pandemic and life being what it is, we mostly fell out of contact. A group message here and there, a bit of a catch up, but the gap between each one got longer. Until fairly recently, when Jim suggested a meet up.

When we were working together, meeting up meant trains and hotels for everyone, so we kept in person meetings to once or twice a year. The scarcity just made those meet ups even better though, especially when your head office happens to be in the same building as the Sky Garden. Made the 7am rush to get the commute train to London so much more worth it. That and the hotel breakfast, anyway.

Yesterday felt just the same, with the added bonus of seeing people I've not seen since before the pandemic took over. With some people, it takes really effort to be with, but it took no time at all for us to fall back into the old dynamic. Even in the planning of it all: Jim came up with the idea, Tina planned it out, and I saw it through.

And it was great. The town we went to was a semi-middle ground; the others had relatives in the area, and it was easily reachable by train for me. We were all pretty tired; Jim had been up drinking with a relative the night before. Tina was up watching Formula 1 first thing, and I'd been up since half six. But once we got into the swing of it, you'd have never known were a comfy blanket away from passing out.

First up was a sort of outdoor escape room. We were given a case, a set of clues, and an app to download that would prompt us with puzzles and tasks whilst sending us around the town to landmarks and businesses, giving us code phrases to say to people for additional clues. Tina did the marshalling, Jim did the code phrases (including walking into a busy cafe and saying 'I would like to buy everyone here a coffee and a cake', an offer someone very nearly took him up on), and I pushed for answers.

Two hours of walking and puzzling later, we found an Italian restaurant for much needed refuelling, reminiscing and catching up to the sound track of a table of screeching women enjoying pizza and bottomless Prosecco. This part is usually difficult for me, being a natural wallflower, but it was effortless as always with the team, helpedi n no small part by the years of catching up to do.

However, the harpies gave me a crushing headache. I needed paracetamol after that, and Jim needed Easter eggs for the kids, so we stopped off at M&S on the way to a cute Christmas shop that's open all year round. Then it was walking around the incredibly thin pavements, trying not to force oncomers on the road and avoiding the dog walkers. Soaking up the cold Spring air and odd quiet for a Saturday afternoon woke us up and cleared our heads, before we got back to the train station and went our separate ways.

I'm a sucker for the nostalgia trap, and a whore for re-Iiving the good old days in my mind.

It's a pattern I fall into a lot with regards to the team. How good we had it for a few years there. The feeling of working closely with a group of people sitting halfway across the country from one another. How easy our relationship was despite the daily challenges and problems we faced, including from higher ups looking to trim up and offshore. How I produced some of my best work because of them behind me, and how valued I felt. Not just another cog in the machine.

It's a dangerous trap to fall into, both because it breeds resentment of my current circumstances, and because it presents an idea that those days are long out of reach. I'll never get them, or that feeling back.

Yesterday proved how false that is. How quickly and easily I can get that feeling of those days back, in a health and maintainable way. Sure, the team is done and not going to form a part of my daily working life (yet - watch this space), but the relationship is still there, the friendship is still there. Like an evergreen that just needs tending every once in a while.

I lose sight of that, locking myself in a box to hide and convince myself that venturing outside and talking with anyone requires real, deep effort to make sure I don't look like an idiot, effort that I just don't have. But days like yesterday prove otherwise, and hopefully, I'll remember that next time I'm in the box. Hopefully I won't let it get so dark before trying to venture out into the light.

Words - 1,845 Running total - 3,877/50,000 (7.75%, 543 words ahead of target)

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