I usually have to take myself in hand in order to indulge, not the other way around. After years of curiosity about pop rocks, I thought, it just can’t matter that I spend 79p for a little bit of American candy. So I circled back to the right aisle in the grocery store and WENT CRAZY.
Which is to say that I bought a single pack. I ate them, they shot off with little explosions, and then, really, I was satisfied. I likely will never have them again.
Every other house I visited as a kid had better candy and better toys. Except for the weeks after Hallowe’en, there wasn’t any candy in our house and just a small handful of toys. Candy wasn’t forbidden; very few things were. Not explicitly anyway.
As a typical candy-loving, toy-covetting child, I noticed this First World dichotomy when I started to go other houses in the neighbourhood, but it wasn’t until I was shipped off to boarding school under false pretences that I noticed the more fundamental differences between my household and the others.
After leaving for school at the age of twelve, I doubt I spent more than three days in a row with my family ever again. I had internalised the understanding that I was on my own to such an extent that even though virtually every day at school was unhappy, I knew there was no one to appeal to; there was no way out. Except for one very unhappy child of staff members, everyone in my original class had been extricated by the time I got to graduation. Rather stark truths like that left my parents unmoved; if they even stooped to listen to me about the school, which was rare, they blamed me for the trouble I was having. So much of my will was dedicated to navigating the school’s capricious censure — we were constantly being berated — there seemed to be no room for thoughts on a career or building a life the way I wanted. My energy was dedicated, without rest, to diminishing my particular purgatory. I had stopped asking for what I wanted years before, and I am still out of touch with a lot of those notions.
Case in point: I left the task of choosing universities late, and I applied to completely different disciplines at each one. Soon after, I turned eighteen and was truly on my own. Underneath I was still adjusting to my freedom and so the nature of my new circumstances left me a little flat. University? Okay, sure. Whatever.
An explanation: this impromptu exploration of my history is all a little bit self-centred for my liking, but I am writing this piece in response to a prompt from a business consultant whom I trust, and I’ve been called to explain how my family or history influenced my own philosophy. The question is, of course, fundamental, but I am here typing a little faster than usual and circling a conclusion without approaching one, I fear. I notice that I’m blathering a bit and also becoming frustrated. I can’t see a link between my upbringing and how I view the working world, though of course the link must be very real and very strong.
Much was wrong with how I got started, and none of my immediate family members take responsibility. Brick walls, all of them. Equally, they didn’t unduly impose their will on me. There was little to absorb or push against, and so questions of how that influenced my own approach to, say, work just leave me confused.
I didn’t navigate my relationship with my family as many of you did. There was no surly adolescent phase, no real fights, no truces, no finding my own feet. I had a safe, quiet upbringing largely free from upheaval, but in that safe space I was on my own. The walls weren’t whispering anything that I could discern.
My parents’ career success was evident, while their willingness to make a home for their children wasn’t. That must mean, if I’m forced to analyse it, that until someone came along to explain why having a career was so crucial, I just couldn’t get that fired up about it. And nobody did.
I remained armed with less lofty intentions: let’s do the work well, avoid producing output we can’t stand behind, and strive for cooperative relationships that don’t leave people subtly unhappy. If most of our waking hours are spent working, then why can’t we enjoy it? And if my personal enjoyment matters, then it matters for the people I work with too.
How this fuzzy career philosophy stems from my background, I cannot yet say. Annie Dillard wrote that ‘how we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives’. In the absence of a career plan or any dreams of launching my business to greater heights (whatever bigger-is-better world view that presupposes), I can feel a little closer to work I want to be doing when the emphasis is on quality of execution and the team finishing the day happy, if tired.