The worst job in the world is one not quite bad enough to make you go and do something else. It’s the job one notch down on the soul destruction scale from ‘enough’s enough’. That’s the kind of job that steals your life from you, that binds you down with apathy but distracts you with just enough money or success that it’s only in hindsight you realise what you’ve missed out on.
Luckily my job isn’t like that. My job is SO bad that at thirty I bit the bullet and set about heading in a completely different career direction. It’s hard to relate to my former mind set now but back then it was hard to comprehend that I could go to university if I wanted to. I’d missed my chance surely? I wouldn’t have enough qualifications would I? There’s no way I could afford it.
Well I can tell you I was wrong. You can go to university whatever age you are. That A Level you have in Media Studies that you always thought was useless might be the thing that gets you in. You get all the loans and grants that 18 year olds get.
That’s not to say it’s easy. At the time I remember thinking that getting in to uni was like a degree in its self. Deciding on a course, finding out who to speak to, sorting out loan applications, these things often involved demoralising dead ends which took persistence to overcome but they are overcomable (especially when your wife very kindly helps you). I asked the people I knew who were sciencey what they did, would they recommend it etc. All my zoologist friends wished they were ecologists and ecology was an easier degree to get on. With no science A Levels I managed to get onto a Foundation year at Manchester Met which got you a place on the Ecology & Conservation degree if you passed.
The Foundation Year turned out to be extremely valuable. I’d been so long out of education that I couldn’t really remember doing any. I’d thrown away my exam certificates thinking I’d never need them. That was a mistake, don’t do that it’s a huge pain in the arse getting new ones when the exam boards have all changed.
Also don’t worry about being plonked down in the middle of a load of people more than a decade younger than you. It is pretty awkward at first but basically there’s nothing you can do about it. I tried not mentioning my age and avoiding words I thought might give me away like ‘wife’ but as my friend Nige advised me a few weeks in: “It’s obvious you’re 30. They all know and they all think it’s weird that you’re there so you might as well get over it”. I returned with a ‘sod it’ attitude and to my surprise soon had some friends. I discovered that some 18 year olds find other 18 year old annoying. It’s turned out to be one of the unexpected pleasures, you learn to leave your age at home. Some of the staff are younger than you and you stop defining your self by your next big birthday and you’re constantly reminded of your own teens and early twenties by your new friends who are experiencing it all for the first time. You learn to forgive them for not having seen Back to the Future and to avoid discussion of the Star Wars franchise. They’ve never owned a tape and they don’t remember the gales of 1990 because they weren’t born! When they watched The Really Wild Show neither Nutkins or Packham presented it.
I’d been lucky enough to be kept on by my former full time employer on a part time basis, thanks largely to the help of our head of department Janat who not only agreed my new hours but wrote me a lovely reference for my UCAS application. I texted her afterwards saying thanks for writing it and thanks for saying I was popular! For one and a half days a week I’d return to my old life, to the time before I had hope of an exciting future career and dutifully complete my work for my allotted hours before escaping back to my lectures and essays and labs, libraries, volunteering, exams, field trips, cups of tea on the green seats…
It was good that I’d kept my job. It paid better than a typical student job, but with it came the feeling that I might never leave, that I was kidding myself. But that is soon to change. I applied for a year long, full time work placement to be completed between my 2nd and 3rd year, with the ecological consultancy Penny Anderson Associates in Buxton. After an interview I was offered the placement and I start in 2 weeks. I handed my notice in at work and committed myself to cutting the last remaining ties to my old work life. I’ve worked for the bank since 2005 but it’s the latest in line of similar jobs I’ve had since I was 19. There’s no going back, I’m finally going all in on this thing. This life U-turn as I’ve come to refer to it as.
For a year I’ll get to do ecological things every day! In the past I have been luckily enough to glimpse a king fisher over the river Irwell on my lunch break, and a cormorant or two…
…and years ago I rescued a common frog from certain death on a busy road as I walked to the bus stop. That involved a tense bus ride home with my coffee cup on my lap, hand over the rim with said frog frantically head-butting it all the way home, hoping no one would ask me what was in the cup. One lunch break I watched a bumblebee hovering just above the ground and marveled at the pollen on the floor which was blown about in the eddies and swirls of air from the bees wing beats…
So an era ends and another begins. The time wasn’t wasted. Without those jobs I may not have pursued this career path, and I wouldn’t have met my friends including Muneeb and Lisa who’s emails and lunch time company will be the thing I miss from what will soon become ‘my old life’.