The Decision, The Hurt

I have been thinking about a decision now for the best part of a year. It was a decision that I have been wanting to make for a while, but I just didn’t have the bottle to take it.

Basically, my business has long outgrown the house I live in. My house is basically my business premises, in which I eat, sleep and be unmerry all year around. This home arrangement makes it look a bit of an amateur affair. In my opinion. This works for some customers, but for where I want to be, it is not acceptable.

But I am now so extraordinarily close to making this decision. There is premises available. I have a possible arrangement I can make, and a possible business deal with a contact. I am so worn down that I am almost ready to make this decision anyway. I have high ambitions.

And I feel ready to take the risk.

In relative terms, it’s a pretty big one. It’s bigger than the risk I took to move away in the first place and start up this business in the middle of an area I’d never before been to.

But I feel this time we’re almost there. We’re almost in the right position to make it.

Today I went to meet a friend. I don’t have many of those, but I felt I needed someone to sound off to. To just have someone listen to my ideas and evaluate them. I also went some way to offering him some ideas for how he could help me, which he was willing to do.

I have known this friend since secondary school. Originally he was going to join me in the business anyway- but he was never willing to risk everything to make it happen. He was just like most of the people I’ve come across in this world: they want the safety of the income stream from now to eternity. He wanted to wait for me to get it all up and running, and then he would step in to help.

He belittled my efforts. He said in the early days “I earn more stacking shelves”. He provided no support, no encouragement, no help. Much like my family, to be honest.

I would like to say I can find it in my heart to forgive them, but the truth be told is that a part of me can’t. It still sticks in my mind even now, despite the fact that I have decisively, convincingly proved them wrong, and am almost ready to make the next gamble.

It’s richly ironic that I may end up employing him, when the offer on the table, if only he’d had the bottle, was for 50% of the business.

I guess I should take joy in having the last laugh. I would like to think that I’d be better than that, but I feel like I deserve this moment of self-indulgence.

All that remains is the pain of not having anyone who really believed in me.

Bad Decisions

As time has gone by, I think I’ve got better at spotting the likely trouble jobs.

In recent weeks, work has been so overwhelming that I feel like I haven’t had a day off in months, and yet I know that’s not the case. But I do know for a fact that I have almost been working constantly for at least a few weeks, which has really worn me down.

Last night I was on the verge of taking a decision to roll the dice and change my business up completely, but this morning I have once again put my cautious cap back on.

But one thing I have definitely made a wrong call on was a recent call that emerged late on Friday, which I had a feeling would be something very tricky, and has proved to be. Not before a long and excruciating saga involving unsociable hour calls, a threaded screw head that needed to be drilled out, seriously cut fingers which have been stinging for days, and the personality of the customer being far too demanding. All this when I was so close to not even taking the job. I should have trusted my inner judgement…

What has ground me down so much has been the fact that I have got myself involved in too many peripheral things, involving my not-yet-might-never-be business “partner” – which has, again, taken up stacks of my time for no return. This involves tax returns, VAT returns, self-assessment, free IT support, on and on it goes. Time that I desperately need.

Undoing bad decisions is impossible. It feels easier to just to ride with it, accept my lot that I made a mistake in the first place, and see what comes of it. Nothing has now for several years, not through want of trying, but ultimately, I am now beginning to think I should never have gone down this road.

One bad decision that I wish I could undo is the use of my house as a workplace. It is not suitable. It has driven me mad recently. I cannot escape the phone ringing. I cannot switch off. I have a clutch of customers that expect too much, around the clock, and think that I’m just bob-a-job, hobby PC advice, who doesn’t mind helping because it’s not his bread and butter.

They are so wrong it’s untrue. I dearly wish I had made more effort to make my business more professional. People assume that, as I’m working from home, and they have my mobile number, that this isn’t a serious enterprise. That they can just call me anytime because they know I’ll be there, and that they can “pick my brains” because I’m their “PC guy” or whatever vaguely friendly but often diminishing term they use.

The business has the strong smell of amateurism about it. About a guy just bumbling along making bits of cash here and there from fixing people’s PCs in his living room.

At the end of the day, they are wrong. I make good money out of what I do, and I do it because it earns me a decent living and allows me the freedom and flexibility to deal with the people I choose. That, in reality is the state I am at. I don’t have to rely on one particular person, and you don’t have any right to ring me at 8pm in the evening, or 6pm on Saturday, or any time on Sunday. Nothing in the IT world is that cripplingly urgent, I promise you. I have never come across a job that couldn’t wait until normal working hours. It really is just people being extremely inconsiderate.

The only people who could possibly have an excuse are businesses. Businesses do not phone outside of working hours. Why? Because they’re not working outside of working hours!

The facts are now simple and I need to be bolder about addressing them. I don’t need certain customers. The ones who think I am sitting here all day, every day, waiting for them to call, hoping, praying that someone will take mercy on me and throw me a few crumbs from their table. Or the ones who wrongly assume I am some sort of international corporation with staff on hand 24/7 to deal with their most minor troubles. So you lost your Hotmail icon? So you want to know my warranty terms? Do you know it’s 9pm on a Sunday? (both true stories)

Maybe people are just getting more rude? Maybe people expect far too much in modern society? We have got used to websites being online around the clock, and supermarkets open all day every day that we forget that PEOPLE are not the same as fictional corporate identities.

I know this has been a bit of an epic rant, but I needed to get it out of my system. I need more sleep, I need better sleep, I need better food, I need more time to look after myself, I need more time to enjoy myself, I need more time to have a social life. I can’t do all of that and run a business every day too.

Bad decisions of the past cause this. Bad decisions that seemed like good at the time, but on reflection set up all of this.

It has to change soon.

A Good Week For Some

This time last week I was writing about my concerns over my brother. During the time I was home, those concerns widened to encompass not just that one brother, but the other brother as well, and my younger sister. They are all reaching that awkward stage of life where they still don’t know what it is they’d like to do with their lives, but worse still have absolutely no ideas at all.

Yet, I fully sympathise with them. When I was 22, my older-younger brother’s age, I had decided what I wanted to do with life. A year later, I had totally reversed my position. So I cannot say anything. And as far as my 17 year old brother and 16 year old sister go, I had no idea at their ages either. Who does?

But in those days it seemed less pressured. Back then, the economy was good, life was relatively stable and there was no reason to take an early decision. Why close doors when you’re so young? Why not just keep getting educated and give yourself room to breathe and think things through properly when you’re older and wiser?

That was always my plan. It didn’t really work, because it encouraged me to take a decision in panic. I am still glad I changed my mind about becoming a teacher. I don’t think I could have ever survived the pressure of the job, and children deserve better than that. But by not having any clue about what to do, I jumped at the first idea that came into my head. A wrong idea that could have led to me wasting two more years of my life – a life that is far too short already.

As such, I am not in any position to lecture my 22 year old brother. He too doesn’t have a clue, but has fewer options open to him due to a) lack of qualifications; b) lack of experience; c) lack of savings. Since returning from Australia in June, he has drifted aimlessly, with no job, no prospects, and an economy that has turned its back on people like him. But at the same time, he appeared unbothered by this, and happy to just let it all happen. The virtues of living off someone else’s back, perhaps. But that is a mean thing to say.

Fortunately, there has been some relief. Last week, on his birthday no less, there was a phone call from my uncle, telling us that his employer was recruiting staff on three-month contracts to work in a major bank. My brother, being the desperately unmotivated person he is, decided he was going to leave the phone call until the next day. My other brother, being somewhat different, decided to call right after he got home from college. 5 minutes later, he had an interview for the following day.

After much persuasion (and anger), Older Younger Brother took to the phone and secured an interview too.

To cut a tedious story short, they now both have jobs. They are short-term, but they could easily be renewed and there’s a very good chance that if they both show up on time, are diligent and hard-working, they will get permanent positions.

I am really pleased for them, but I remain concerned. Older Younger Brother has always been unwilling to engage with normality. He gets up when he pleases in the late afternoon. Fortunately for him, he has been landed with the afternoon shift, though he will still need to at least join the land of the living by midday. I really wanted him to get normal hours 9-5, so that he would finally join us in the Real World. But it is a very good start. I just hope he can find the motivation and self-discipline required, because if he doesn’t it will soon turn into yet another pressure on my parents.

As for Younger Younger Brother, my concerns are different. He is still in college. He is reaching a critical time when exams and the teaching are coming to a crescendo. I too had a job at his age, but only two shifts on Saturday and Sunday mornings. He, instead, will be working the evening shift every day. He is not an organised person, so I’m not sure how he will cope with having to spend Saturday and Sunday doing his college work – days (and nights…) when he normally does his own thing, off my parents’ expense, of course. I have a feeling he just won’t bother, and will end up with poor A-Levels, ruining any chance of going to university, and getting out of the trap that is home family life. I believe he’d be secretly happy with that, because I’m convinced he doesn’t want to go to university anyway.

No one should be forced into education, but I’m of the view that during these terrible economic times, the more you can do to not have to participate in this dreadful job market, the better. He is intelligent enough to go, but lacks the belief that it is “for him”. I understand as I felt the same way. But in the end, it really did do me the world of good as a person.

So it’s typical really. This has been a good week for them, and yet we (as in me and my parents) are still worried for them. The ball is in their court, and I’m glad they’ve had a bit of luck, but they need a lot more.

A Sort Of Holiday

It’s Sunday afternoon and all is quiet. I’m still officially “on holiday” though I did do some work earlier this week.

This is most unusual, because I’m still sitting in my parents’ house. I’ve been here for about 10 days now. But it’s only really the past four days that I’ve actually began having a proper break. And it all began with a simple thing.

Turning my phone off.

Earlier in the week I missed a couple of phone calls. Not many, but enough. Each one that came through made me despair. I worried that I was missing business permanently. I also worried that maybe I could help them immediately and therefore make my eventual return a lot easier.

But, for now, I couldn’t care less. The holiday will officially end tomorrow, when I’ll turn my phone back on. The phone has now been off since Thursday afternoon. I changed the voicemail to say I was on holiday and would deal with things when I get back. I have even been disciplined enough not to look at my e-mail, though I wish I had changed it to an autoresponder to tell people I’d get back to them.

It has worked, though. I feel like I’ve had a few days without being hounded by clients, without having to think about computers, about websites, about HTML, and having to check voicemails every couple of hours. I feel better, and definitely less stressed. Of course, it won’t take long for that to all start up again, but I do feel like I have recovered from an incredibly hard time over the past month. The work has been ceaseless.

But I do think the holiday has helped me to clarify a few work-related thoughts. I’m now ready to stop doing all distant call outs for a number of reasons. Firstly, they don’t pay enough for the hassle they cause. Secondly, I just don’t have the time to cut several hours out of my day for them; and thirdly, I need to reduce the stress business causes me. I feel like I’m running around like a headless chicken sometimes. I’m willing to sacrifice the small amount of money they bring me if it gives me back critical working hours. And, it will also reduce the dependence I have on my housemate, which, if all goes to plan, will be reduced to zero in the coming months.

So this holiday has definitely been good. I have made some useful decisions. I’ve had some good fun. I’ve also had some nice time off with my family, who are all undergoing their own various stresses, strains and difficult decisions at the moment. It’s a changeable time for everyone. I have offered advice, but no one wants it, so I won’t be doing so any more.

Switching my phone on tomorrow morning though is going to be interesting…

Talking About Nothing

In the coming months, a lot of things will need to be settled.

Right now, all is progressing very well. I have problems, of course I do, but mostly they’re business ones caused by the quirky and irritating nature of computers. The worst faults, as anyone in IT knows, are the intermittent ones that can come and go with no adequate explanation. They lead to a bout of headscratching, and then all of a sudden a new problem emerges elsewhere, and you forget about it.

It sounds like a metaphor for life in general. Some problems crop up, and demand masses of your time thinking of ways to get around them. But sometimes, the answer is not to go around, but to go through. Live with the consequences, and just get on with it; as in good time, your attentions will soon be drawn elsewhere.

It happens with me on a regular basis these days. My “problem” to a certain extent is that I am working quite hard these days. At times, when the workload gets me down, I worry and think I can’t go on like this. I have to find some solution to it, either by trying to find someone to help me, or do something about my pitiful inability to drive a car.

But then I work through it. The answer never comes, but I just do all the work I have anyway. After all, I can’t afford to refuse work. I just have to do it.

And then I emerge from the other side. Less inundated, less stressed, and in a financially better situation. Until I then start worrying that I don’t have enough work, and it’s just as well I don’t have someone else working for me.

It’s a perpetual cycle that, these days, I’m more than used to.

Like today. In theory, I have no work today. I have a few things I can do: some laptops to break up and sell on eBay, for instance. But I can do that anytime. If the quietness continues, then maybe I’ll do it tomorrow. But it most probably won’t. It seems presumptuous of me, but I am now in a reasonable position where I can simply expect the phone to ring without me doing all that much to encourage it, with leafleting and adverts, etc. It’s a nice position to be in, and, naturally, one that can lead to a little complacency.

But it’s good. It shows what I’m doing is valued. It shows I have lots of good and loyal customers, and that I’m doing such a good job that people recommend me to others. I am very pleased with that.

Like I said though, in the coming months, I have a lot of life decisions to make. I had intended to write about them, but they depress me so much that, after already writing nearly 500 words without going anywhere near them, I guess my subconscious is telling me something.

Maybe next time. If I remember.