Of Cross roads…

Image Source:  Lachlan Donald on Unsplash

***
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about crossroads  – the metaphorical kind of course – points in one’s life where decisions with the potential to change the trajectory of one’s life are foisted upon one.  The triggers for this latest bout of thinking are varied but the one common thread is a sense of dissatisfaction which has simmered below the surface for most of the year. Turning forty is certainly part of that, particularly as in its immediate aftermath, it felt like I had reached the top of a mountain only to find there was nothing to be seen there. There is also the desire to head down south for good for family reasons, which perhaps has declared open season on everything I have done for work over the past fifteen-ish years. In the rarefied atmosphere in which my thought experiments exist,  everything is an option: from a complete pivot away from oil and gas into something more tech-related, through a less severe move away from being the (siloed) technical specialist I have spent the past few years evolving into becoming more of a generalist to a gap year, travelling the world.

10 years ago if you asked me, I would have sworn off getting into the world of managing people and the (in my opinion) the murky world of office politics but I am finding my revulsion for that less iron-clad than it once was. Truth is when it all comes down to the brass tacks, the things which drive my decisions are the things which drive us all: family, financial security, flexibility and opportunities to get ahead not some rose-tinted version of reality.

Of course, desires are one thing, but they only materialise when desire meets real-world opportunity. Time is also a factor, which is where I find myself now with irons in the fire taking however long they will take whilst I ponder what viable options remain.  The option to cut ties and sail off into a different vista is one my friends M and O have taken over the past few months, as have a steady stream of people in my wider cycle. If all goes to plan, I may not be far behind them. Fingers crossed.

Shelter

For The Sunday Muse prompt #78. Image copyright Erik Johansson.

***
Stroke by stroke these
words, hewn by force, as though from
resistant rock are building a shelter,
each one a link to a thought and then
a world beating back the clouds which loom,
a slowly growing splash of colour
holding out against the ashen night without.
These words are calling the trees,
to stand in defiance against the howling wind
and the ground, now covered with frost, to cling
to life, through the night, because
tomorrow comes, and with beginning again.

By Degrees: Lessons from My Decade of Being Thirty Something

The year I turned thirty, I was a student battling to put finishing touches to my master’s degree dissertation and pondering what the future had in store for me. That the success or failure of that year, and the year before that, came down to that singular task was the result of an unanticipated turn of events which turned what was a leave of absence to return to full-time study into having to leave my Nigerian job. Grad school, my response to the year before that, had made sense in my head largely because it seemed a low risk, given there was a reasonably high likelihood of returning. I, as it would turn out was ultimately mistaken.

For the first few months after, I was certain I would be up and running in no time – there was still the path to a post-study visa and I was certain my previous experience of pretending to know about rust at an oil major would be more than enough to get my foot in the door at any number of similar companies. A conversation with my Uncle C during this period comes to mind in which, talking post-study plans, I quoted a salary expectation which in hindsight was wildly optimistic. Months later, with comparatively few responses to the various applications I had sent out, and my expectations a lot more realistic as a result, bitterly cold mornings at train stations waiting for connections between Newcastle and the ‘Deen were the sum of my life, broken only by the pleasures of BBM chats with O and F that helped the time pass. Thankfully, things would eventually improve, culminating in a successful interview in the middle of winter and a relocation to the ‘Deen in time to return to full-time work by the first week of January of the next year.

Ten years down the road, it feels – at first glance – that I am in the same space again; wrestling with a desire for more seething beneath the surface and wondering what the big gains of the last ten years have been.The longer I look though, the clearer it becomes to me that the sense of being stuck and stale is the glass half empty version of events. The glass half full version is that there have been lessons learned and victories won over the past ten years. For one, now and again I stumble into conversations with the workmates I left behind back in ’09. These conversations typically segue into catching up on who has left the company (or been pushed out) or which high-flier has earned a move to Houston. Whilst on the level of financial gain and success I have most definitely been left behind by them, the one silver lining tends to be that I have had grown into more positions of authority and influence than they have. I won’t presume to imagine I have done as well as I could have but was is undeniable is that I have grown from the ultra reserved, tentative person that I was then into a more confident person thanks to the various work situations I have been thrown in. That is one of the lessons I have learned from the past ten years – only by letting go and stretching can one grow. It helps if the letting go is by choice of course.

My default setting, no thanks I suspect to growing up a Nigerian PK, is an intensely private one, the general sense whilst growing up that what happened in the house should be kept in the house; keeping up appearances and what not. Allied to that has been a strong sense of independence – if striving to do things by myself for myself counts as independence. Several times over the past ten years, people have come through for me and surprised me. A., who several times has insisted I spend my Lagos nights at his rather than in a hotel even on one occasion he was out of town, O who dropped everything to offer support when H passed and others too many to enumerate have been high points, underscoring for me a lesson that has been difficult to learn, it is OK to lean on people. I can only hope that I can be as a good a friend to others as these and more have been to me.

In the aftermath of H’s passing, and several times over the intervening years, it has felt like grief has acquired a life of its own festering deep within. There have also been several seasons of heartbreak occasioned by unrequited love amongst other things. My memories of the immediate aftermath of these events – thankfully now dim and distant – are of being brought low and unable to properly function. Time though has worked its magic and in the main whilst the memories still linger, the pain and hurt from them have faded into acceptance. That is something I try to remind myself of in the aftermath of disappointment, time usually brings healing in its wings.

My Myers-Briggs type is INTJ – if unlike Adam Grant you don’t think it’s hogwash – which perhaps explains my occasional bouts with analysis paralysis. Seemingly big decisions have often left me crippled with indecision from weighing all the pros and cons to minute levels of detail. A few come to mind from the past ten years – the Azerbaijan question, my Bachelor’s Conundrum to list a few – but with benefit of hindsight, in most of the instances, the individual decision would have made little difference in the end; sometimes the process of deciding is more important than the decision itself.

For all the high points from work there have been low spots too; not least the sense I have had more recently of being left behind. I suppose spending 8 years in the same building will do that to you, particularly when it feels like remuneration hasn’t been the greatest. A reticence to toot my own horn at times has contributed to this I suspect, as has my work visa-related restrictions which were only fully lifted in January of 2017. What key inflection points in my career over the past ten years there are have occurred because I have taken the bull by the horns turning offers from elsewhere into significant upgrades or being very clear about what direction I want my career to go next. Learning to sell myself better is something I suspect I will continue to struggle with but struggle I will until I gain ascendancy.

Of all the faith-based monikers kicking about, I suspect charismatic – with all its trappings – would probably have best described me ten years ago. These days, I self classify as a recovering prodigal, my attempt to describe the evolution in my beliefs on the big issues such as faith, origins and the fate of humanity. Given what we know about the age of the earth, the likelihood of there being a single Adam and all, I have increasingly found it difficult to hold on to a young earth, literal interpretation of Genesis and by extension the doctrine of original sin. Dark matter and dark energy however suggest to me that there remains a huge gap in our understanding of the workings of the Universe, a gap which means that I can completely discount the spiritual dimension with any degree of intellectual honesty. It is perhaps a poorly articulated God of The Gaps argument, but in conjunction with the subjective evidence of the answers to prayers I still get (or the coincidences that occur when I pray), I have to say I still believe, however tenuous that might yet be.

As I write this now with the emotions of the big day now long past – and all the cake and doughnuts well and truly digested – it very much feels like a time in which to draw a line in the sand and begin again, something I suspect I have been too eager to do many times in the past. Much as it was back in ’09, the question of how the next ten years will shape up is front and centre in my mind. What is incontrovertible though is that time marches on, and whether by action or inaction, every passing second is a step in a sequence of movements that will result either in a masterpiece or a very well polished turd. That is the way of the world.

Revivifying

 

revivify

For The Sunday Muse Prompt, #61. Photo Artistry by Erik Johansson Master Photo-manipulation Artist.

***
Slat by slat,
dab by dab this
dream in grey is
being remade into
a sea of blue, its
quiescent skin stretched
tight like a canvas
between the present and
the past where the sky
meets the earth’s lie.
Each slat was once alive,
each cell once bursting
with the pressure of rich
water, drawn by breathing;
air and sunlight entwined
in a dance whose beat
is borne in the body,
from seed to fruit
to seed by rebirthing.
Now this dream of grey,
frozen still, is reawakening
each dab of colour returning
life to where it once was.

Alternate Reality

cat

For The Sunday Muse, Prompt #60. In which I wonder what the reality of what a cat feels is.

***
What if what we are
Are mere playthings, pawns
roughly hewn from stunted dogwood,
clinging to life in a season
of dearth. What if the feeling
of contentment is a mirage,
a vision of delusion far removed
from the way things really are.
What if what we think
is the beauty of a garland
really is a chain binding us
to a different reality, what if.

Wet Weather Problems, Twittering about Tea and Loving at First Write

***
All it takes is an extended patch of wet and cold weather for things to descend into chaos on these islands, this latest batch of snow, heavy winds and cold weather culminating in flight cancellations and severe weather warnings amongst others. For the most part, I manage to survive – extra warm clothing, walking gingerly to and from work in the wet slush and almost continuous heating being the sum of the adjustments I have to make. It is at the weekend when the rooster comes home to roost in a manner of speaking. Having turned up at the airport for my 8.20pm flight down to Heathrow, delays till almost 11 pm are announced until at a few minutes before midnight we are advised the flight has been cancelled. Remarkably, everyone who should be on our flight is remarkably sanguine about it all,  helped I suspect by the sense that the weather ‘gods’ have been at it again. Between the final announcement of delays and the flight being cancelled, we find (from Flight radar) that the ‘plane designated to carry us away to London has made several attempts to land at the ‘Deen but has failed due to fog rolling in. They eventually get diverted to Glasgow whilst we make an orderly line at the front desk to get our flights rebooked. I move my flight by a week and then head home, not before I find out that the woman in front of me in the queue has family in the same area of Surrey that I’m headed to, and very much like me, she makes this trip every two weeks so. Joking about being four-day spouses, does have a ring of truth to it though. For me, it offers evidence that this thing – having a foot in two different countries – isn’t exactly impossible to maintain, mild weather-induced irritation notwithstanding.

***

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I have to thank this tweet, and the replies it spawned, for helping most of that time pass. Growing up in my other country, meals were all about being three ‘square’ meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tea – and apples amongst other things – were alien constructs I first came across in the various Enid Blyton books I scrounged off my more exposed friends. As I became older, tea became synonymous with instant cream milk (usually the Peak brand) and Bournvita (a chocolate drink) and on the odd occasion a cup of Lipton tea. Reading the replies and comments thus brought back memories of my first few years up here, particularly offshore and the contact with people from across the spectrum of UK regions it brought my way and brought more than a few chuckles to me too. A silver lining to all that waiting I would like to think.

***

Elsewhere, I have been slowly catching up with the first season of Aria Code, Rhiannon Giddens’ deep dive into a number of the most famous arias along with interviews with singers and capped off with the full aria from the Met Opera. The penultimate episode from this first season features the “Letter Aria” from Jules Massenet’s Werther, which opens with Charlotte at home on Christmas Eve, rereading letters that she has received from Werther an ex-lover she has sent away to be focused on her marriage to her husband. One of the themes explored in this episode of Aria code is the subject of long-distance love, a theme lived and explored by one of the show’s guests Peter Bognanni (after briefly meeting his wife, they fell and grew in love over email before eventually marrying) in his book Things I’m Seeing Without You. Well worth a listen if Opera is your bag, or if like me you have good memories from having made friends and loving over significant distances.

Full Circle

***
Dragging myself out of bed to begin the motions that will end in my lining up at the starting point of this week’s Aberdeen Parkrun, it strikes me that it is just over a month ago that I shipped myself and a couple of bags out of town for an extended holiday season. In between there have been pit stops in various parts of Surrey, East London, Chelmsford, Kent and an extended traipse through several towns within the Valencian Community. A second full week of work has beaten any remnant of festivity out of me, which heightened the sense of finality of the park run. I have come full circle, back to the grind of life. Wash, rinse, repeat. The run itself was hardly memorable – three minutes slower than my PB from last year putting the surfeit of Christmas pudding into perspective.

It is one small first step though. Here’s to many more in this year of Living Intentionally.

2019: The Year of Living Intentionally

The Year of Living Intentionally-2

***

If I had to boil down the essence of the year of being thirty eight into one word, it would be coasting. It felt like I lurched from one crisis to the other, my actions driven more by the need to fight whatever fire glowed brightest than any form of plan or structure. As I stand here on the cusp of turning forty, I feel like something needs to change significantly – a fool at forty is a fool forever they say. That, and that there is someone who is significantly affected by my actions only makes it more imperative that I get my SH*T together soon.

I’d like for this year of being thirty-nine to be one of Living Intentionally. By Living Intentionally, I mean living a life that is aimed towards defined goals/objectives and which (by gathering the requisite data and analysing them) measurably improves. Defined goals/objectives suggest an overarching plan for life, various iterations of which have existed over the years. At its core that plan – derived from identifying the roles I fill, clustering them into three interaction spaces (Personal, Professional, Public) and identifying long term goals for each interaction space – can be summarised as:

  • Be the best husband, father, brother, son and friend I can be;
  • Excel in the Corrosion, Materials, Welding and Inspection discipline;
  • Live in and contribute to life in a great church and a great city.

So on to the focus areas for this year of living intentionally, which is organised around five themes.

Learn continuously (and become proficient in my core skill areas)
For work I pretend to know a lot about rust, which is one element of the wider job family I have spent the bulk of my career in – Materials, Corrosion, Inspection & Welding Engineering (MCI &W). For all the development activity I completed in 2018, it didn’t feel as structured as in previous years, driven largely by the fire-fighting I had to do at work. The goal for this year would be to go back to basics, review the competency definitions, identify my gaps and get a structured plan for closing them by self-study and or specific courses. Outside work, I became more and more intrigued by all the happenings in the data science/analytics/machine learning domain. From learning to code in python, I ended up taking a number of data science courses on Coursera and signing up for a Dataquest premium account for a year. This, and improving my writing skills I believe are the three areas I would like to develop proficiency in in 2019. The small changes identified in support of these goals are:

  • Complete my Dataquest Data Scientist path whilst studying for 5 hours a week*
  • Spend 5 hours per week studying MCI&W related topics*
  • Identify and complete a creative non-fiction writing course

Prepare (for fatherhood, ageing and eventual retirement)
Several elements stand out to me as being critical to being/becoming a good father, the key ones being building a solid spiritual and moral grounding to provide leadership within my personal circle, being more financially responsible so I have more disposable income and am also preparing for eventual retirement. Also as I totter on the edge of turning forty, what has become clear is that my metabolism is no longer what it once was, and downing multiple slices of pizza just won’t cut it anymore. It is also a time when lifestyle changes might yet stave off debilitating problems later in life. There is also the small matter of my life being split between the ‘Deen and Byfleet further down South. To get closer to these ideas, I intend to be intentional about:

  • Developing a daily practice of prayer and bible study (I have chosen to use the YouVersion app for its in built tracking and metrics)*
  • Save at least 10% of net monthly earnings*
  • Reduce weight to 80 kg
  • Run 3x a week (>20km overall) *
  • Improve average sleep to >6.5 hours per day: This is unlikely to be a quick fix as I first have to find and fix the underlying habits/issues affecting my sleep
  • Relocate to the Greater London  Area – another one that involves a lot of smaller changes including finding a job down south (in the same or different industry) or a means of replacing my current income
  • Read 25 books, covering Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, Popular science, The Church Fathers/ Church History, Personal Development (Reading widely and consistently is a habit I would like to give to my future kids)

Engage (family and friends better)
One of the consequences of my year of drifting was a slow disconnection from all non-essential communication. For 2019 I would like to get into a space where I have regular meetups and phone calls with my close friends and family. Specific objectives in this domain for 2019 are:

  • Speak to my father weekly*
  • Speak to my siblings monthly (one each week), in-laws once a quarter*
  • Write to my sponsored (Compassion) children at least once a quarter also
  • Meet up with one close friend each month*

Diversify (Earn Extra income)
They say death and taxes are the only things one can be certain of, which is why I would like 2019 to be the year in which I diversify my earnings. The obvious advantage of extra income aside, there is also the opportunity to insulate myself somewhat from the ebbs and flows of big oil and its effects on job security. Two things come to mind as options for exploring this – developing and then monetising any data science/ analytics skills I pick up and also exploring options for engaging the online gig economy. Lots of work to develop this further this year I suspect but one I intend to be intentional about. My notional target here is to earn >£1,000 from a side gig by year end.

Measure and Improve
They say you can’t improve what you don’t measure, which is why one of the themes for this year is to find ways and means to simplify measuring and reviewing my progress towards all the changes I’m trying to be intentional about. A few of the apps I use (Strava, YouVersion, Dataquest, Garmin) automate the process of capturing performance related data. For the remainder, loop will have to suffice as a repository for tracking data. The idea would be to develop a short monthly review template which will capture key datasets and also include some text/ commentary as a means of self-assessing where I am on the path towards these goals.

Almost The Season of Good Cheer

Although the lights have been on around town for a while now, only now with the office Christmas party a few days away has any sense of good cheer begun to rear its head. In addition to the bunting everywhere (and our very own special office Christmas tree), the subject of Christmas plans has now seeped into our coffee machine conversations, as has the buzz around the office secret Santa reveal. The Christmas party is definitely a highlight of the season, not least for the special costumes a certain someone breaks out year after year and the alcohol enabled banter which in my view tends to reveal the inner workings of peoples minds more often than not. On a personal note, I am looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends of mine ahead of Thursday, which means I’ll be out everyday from Tuesday till Friday when I hop on my flight down south to formally kick off my period of unplugging.

Until then the precious black gold has to keep flowing to fund our lifestyles, and having three teams in various stages of projects offshore who I have to keep an eye only makes it more imperative that I keep my proper head on. It is the best I can hope for, all things considered.