31 Days of Journaling, Day 28: Tools of The Manly Life

Day 28 of the Art of Manliness 31 Days of Journaling Challenge is to gather my tools for a better life. Here goes:

  1. A Mentor: One of the clear gaps I have identified from the past year has been a tendency to isolate myself from people, both at work and in my personal life, one of the impacts of which has been a lack of oversight of my decisions. Mentors, in both my personal and professional lives, are a priority for me over the next year. Two people, EM and CG, come to mind as options for both domains. Engaging them with a view to seeing if this is something they’d like to help me out with is something I have added to my list of things to explore and conclude over the next year.
  2. A Mastermind Group: The AoM folks boil down a Mastermind group into a collection of similar irons which sharpen each other.  Through my interactions with my friends in the corrosion business, I’d like to think the intent of this tool is being met already. Carefully selecting a mentor with corrosion expertise who also help provide coverage of this need, I believe.
  3. A  Pocket notebook: My evolving journaling practice is loosely aligned to Austin Kleon’s (which is in turn inspired by David Sedaris’s).
  4. Discipline: All of the above require me to get off my backside and develop/ implement a number of habits consistently. Discipline is what will ensure I keep at these till they deliver value in my life. Enough self.

31 Days of Journaling, Day 8: On Work, A Timeline

For Day 8 of the AoM 31 Day Journaling Challenge: Reflect on Your Career.

Work for me has focused on materials, particularly ferrous ones, and how they perform in a variety of oil and gas environments, on two continents; Africa of my birth and Europe where I have spent the last few years. My journey began in December of 2003 with being hired straight out of University in 2003 as a trainee engineer through progressing via a number of roles in various aspects of the corrosion and materials discipline and eventually leaving in October of 2008, thanks to a mixture of burn out and the opportunity to return to the university for graduate studies. Since graduating in July of 2009, I’ve gotten back into the Corrosion & Materials field first with a service provider and latterly with an oil & gas production company where I am Corrosion & Materials Technical Authority.

Looking back, the early years were some of the best, being hired at one of the biggest oil and gas companies as part of a cohort of four others helped engender a sense of being special with resources available to develop us. 2008, was one of the most pressure filled years, culminating in my leaving to grad school, a few months out and then a return to industry in 2010.

The future is one that is a bit of a toss up at the moment. I feel like to truly reach the heights I wish to reach –  in which I am a broad based technical specialist able to contribute across design, operations and decommissioning – I need time in a design house or consultancy. That is likely to take a pay cut for some time to get into that slightly different field. There is also the question of my increasing interest in data science, analytics and machine learning and the real opportunities I see to migrate those critical skill sets into the oil and as domain. Perhaps the sweet spot would be to combine Corrosion Science and Analytics into a service (CorrSci Analytics?)  I can sell as a consultant in future?

01. On Resolutions

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Image Source

As has been the case with every year since I can remember, I rang the new year in at church, taking the opportunity to reflect on 2016 and my plans for 2017 as the year turned.

As part of preparing for that, I took time out to reflect on where I was on achieving the wider goals that underpin the seven focus areas I have identified as part of my Life Plan. It is fair to say that it makes for gory reading, the details of which I’ll have to spare you. The cliff notes version is that, like everyone else, there are a few areas where I am pretty much where I want to be (Causes & Charity, Work & Career), a few where I have put in a decent shift (Financial, Physical & Health, People and Social) and a couple where I’ve gone backwards since the end of 2015 (Spiritual, Personal & Mental Development).

Rather than make a big song and dance about resolutions for this new year, I decided to go for a number of priorities which will guide my life and activities in 2017:

  1. S: Growing the relationship, with a formal decision on marrying the hopeful outcome
  2. Writing: Daily on here as guided by life and any of a number of prompts I follow and weekly at A Bloke’s Life.
  3. Online Radio (Radio 31): Supporting a relaunch of the Behind the Music show I was part of last year and also the launch of L’s new one, In Conversation.
  4. Church Community: Progressing the set up of a space for the young, single blokes at the church I currently serve on and prioritising monthly meetups with the two young chaps I met up with on and off through 2016
  5. Music: Learn to play the guitar and volunteering for the Christmas Carol Mass choir for 2017. I’m also minded to get more involved with one of the less traditional vocal ensembles in my local community. Not firmed this one up yet though.
  6. Diet and Exercise: Eat LCHF, complete the MapMyRun 10k training program and run an actual 10k race.
  7. Learning: About AI, neural networks and potential engineering applications, particularly in my field (Corrosion & Materials)

It is shaping up to be a critical year already. Hopefully I devise a means for regularly checking in and staying accountable to these commitments.

Times, Seasons and A Hundred Juggled Things..

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It feels like a trick of time, a sleight of hand drawn from the very top tier of a Houdini play book, but the facts – borne out by the calendar I have open in front of me, and the worn pages in the notebook I bought a couple of months ago – tell a different story; a record, as stark as it is of just how much time has passed in 2016 already.

Back when I set out to reflect on 2015 and how it had panned out (read intense, difficult but largely fulfilling), all I had in front of me was the crowded centre court of Union Square. This time, as I consider the year so far, the view is decidedly more upscale; framed by the vintage red brick buildings and the tops of trees in rude health of this corner of South Harrow.

No matter how many times and in how many ways I slice and dice the year so far, two things end up standing out as leitmotifs – constant change and steady habits. Change, even if constant, is not necessarily a negative thing – and there is an argument that done right it can be a trigger for creative disruption – but my sentiment, one I have voiced in several work contexts is that change for the sake of it serves no real purpose. But then change, thinking differently and continuous improvement are the new buzz words in the current climate; I suspect that is what I have to accept as the new normal.

Where constant change has been a force of disruption, steady habits have been the glue that has held, tenuously at times,the myriad of juggled, jumbled things together. A few of these – like my morning pit stop at church for an hour of contemplative prayer followed by fifteen to twenty minutes of (expensive) Starbucks time in which I plan my day before heading into the bedlam of work – have been intentional, but the most important ones I am finding have somehow evolved organically. An amble about the city centre at lunch time is one of those, started off first because I needed to escape the smell of food at lunch time in my (reorganised) office but then very quickly proving beneficial; the fresh cold air and brisk walking helping to clear my head before the second half of work.

Running and Reading, my two go to activities for de-stressing, have taken a big hit this year. 90 pages of Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life and a further 100 of The Night Manager are about the sum of my real reading this year; piss poor given the grand worldview altering reading I had planned for this year. The mitigation though is that thanks to Pocket I’ve done a lot more web based long form reading, gobbling up everything from my perennial favourites Zadie Smith, Teju Cole, Adam Gopnik, Malcolm Gladwell and the Modern Love series at the New York Times. The less said about running the better I suspect, given all I have managed all year is a single run. My one attempt to salve my conscience through all of this has been to keep my gym membership running. Something about the finality of defeat inherent in cancelling it holds me back a little bit but given how little utilisation I have managed over the past year, I suspect even that might not be enough to save it from the chop in this era of focus on marginal gains and cost efficiency.

Side projects are a happier thing to dwell on. I am at Day 90 of my #100DaysofBeing, a far less mentally tasking writing and picture taking project which I have prioritised over being here as I decide what direction to take this space in. It does mean that NaPoWriMo is in doubt for this year, but given I still haven’t identified a theme that might not be such a bad thing. Elsewhere I have been given the opportunity by the remarkably persistent @1Life_Saved to pretend to be profound on (online) Radio. Our show, Behind the Music, is a chilled, informal conversation centred around music which I think is cool. I might be biased but by all means give the archives a listen as well as any of the other shows the radio station broadcasts.

the3six5NG, our crowdsourced diary effort from three years ago is actively being resurrected. My friend C says, she’ll believe me when she sees it live. I can’t really blame her for the lack of faith given the number of false starts since then. I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which previous participants have embraced the chance to contribute again. Give the archives a whirl and if it’s your kind of thing, do email us about picking up a slot from the first of June. For more background, digest this.

All told, it’s been a challenging but productive year so far. I suppose that is what this whole adulting business is all about – engaging life head on rather than skirting the skirmishes and looking to live to fight another day. What I can’t shake is the lingering sense of a change looming; a sense of an ending if you like.

#QuietlyConfident

Day 18 – Find Your N.U.T.s

Day 18 of the Better Man in 30 days challenge – Find Your N.U.T.s

Your Non-negotiable, Unalterable Terms that is. For me these are inextricably linked to the Core Values from Day 1– Faith, Family, Continuous Improvement, Mentoring and Health. Soooo, here goes:order:

  1. Living out a real world faith – continuously seeking ways to translate the undergirding principles of love and consideration for others, and social justice – will be the single most important thing that will guide my relationships with others;
  2. I will honour my daily spiritual practice and journaling;
  3. My family, and adequately fulfilling the various roles I play in it – Son,Brother, (future) Husband and Father – will always take precedence over other considerations;
  4. I will schedule regular (monthly at least) time to go through plan-do-review cycles for each of my core connections and the roles I play in them – friends and family, professional and within the wider civil/social context;
  5. I will take care of my body – eating well and exercising.

The End of the Beginning

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When I first came here, it was not love at first sight. There was no instant click, no immediate sense of belonging; only a sense of tentativeness.The call that set it all off had come out of the blue one Tuesday afternoon, from a Manager I didn’t work for directly. My first response was to email the guy I actually did work for – he took a day and a half to get back to me – by which time the moving train had gathered speed. After less than three months back at the mother lode, following a six month stint sequestered in a client office,  I was on the move again.

There was the small matter of a mini interview to navigate before all that -which I managed alright at. And then there was the settling in, to a different, less organised way of working, and new people to meet on both sides of the fence.

That little exchange at the start of everything would end up setting the tone for everything other thing that would happen over the course of the next three years (and counting) – the sense of being kept at arms length, doing my own thing as long as the coffers at the mother lode kept swelling due to my endeavours.

There have been good memories – the banter which went a tad too far more often than not, the introduction to G&Ts (the gentleman’s brew), team lunches and the three or four truly great work mates I made. There were near escapes too – Azerbaijan came calling, as did Nigeria (a few times). By and large one survived, and dare I say left an impact – delivering  on the job under pressure at times in a way that drew grudging respect from more than a few people.

For the last time today, the taps were turned off on the little corner of the North Sea I have been the resident rustgeek for. I never forged the sort of bond with M as I did with UX5 from a few years ago, nevertheless there is the sense of loss and beyond that the question of what the next big challenge will be.

It certainly is not the end, more like the end of the beginning as Churchill once famously said, but for me it feels only natural to pause and ponder what the next move will be. There are a number of design sized gaps in my resume which this natural juncture feels like a good time to begin to seek ways to plug.

The ideal next role? London or it’s environs, focused on subsea and pipelines and with loads of ‘core’ corrosion and materials content. The last five years have been spent largely in an Inspection and Asset Integrity role to the detriment of the more technical, M&C skill areas .

What is not in doubt is the certainty of uncertainty. The next move will not be sudden – there is yet some life left in the old dog that is M. And wherever one ends up, there will be new memories.

The life plan…

Distilled into three main components:

  1. Be the best husband, father, brother, son and friend I can be;
  2. Excel in (Corrosion, Materials and Welding) Engineering;
  3. Live in, and contribute to life in, a great church and a great city.

Not quite as simple as it sounds, but tiny first steps are all that count, no?

Certainly Uncertain….

A few days ago, mid way through a telephone conversation with one of the lads I used to work with in my UX5 days, the delectable lass who joined a few months before I was due to leave overheard our conversation and asked to speak with me.

Even back then, in those early days of 2008, I was the bloke with a 5 year rolling plan complete with milestones, leading and lagging indicators and a roadmap. Her question had an air of inevitability to it; it had to do with the current iteration of the plan. Sadly, I could not give her the reassurances she was seeking – namely that the plan was still on track, and that an invite – amongst other things – would be winging it’s way to her Nigerian post box in the not too distant future.

The one thing I could not have factored into those – admittedly bullish plans – was the uncertainty around a few of the critical outcomes on which the plan flew or sank. I couldn’t have known that what looked like a door temptingly left ajar was in fact a door on its way to slamming shut with my finger stuck between it and the door frame; or that what felt like nirvana two years later would spontaneously combust over one big thing.  The uncertainties have not somehow dissolved into thin air with time. Au contraire, they in all probability have somehow become greater. More important because the outcomes are now more critical than before, and also because the interdependencies are even more convoluted.

In an ideal world, I suppose one would be able to tell with a reasonable amount of certainty what certain outcomes would be, without having to resort to Bayesian techniques, or applying the relational equivalent of hit and hope. Or maybe,  like my mother insists, I am simply over thinking it – micromanaging my outcomes so much that I end up not doing anything or losing the sense of adventure and unpredictability that not having all those backup plans brings.

Or maybe not…..

Bitter-sweet

I have spent the last few days offsite attending the SPE’s Oilfield Corrosion Conference in Aberdeen. When the email invite first came through, I knew I had to be part of it. The one main gripe I have about my job is the lack of real technical content in it on an ongoing basis. I tend to get sucked into the fire fighting, reactive mode that prevents me from applying my specialist Corrosion & Materials engineering knowledge.

It was good to see what my peers (if I can call them that seeing they are so far ahead of me technically 🙂 ) are up to, put faces to names I’d heard of in the past and catch up/ socialise with a few old friends. There was also the awkward moment where I ran into the Corrosion Manager at the firm I turned down after what seemed like a good interview just over a year ago. If I had to summarise my learnings I would pick a number of points viz:

  • There is a lot of work going on in the Academia and consulting which doesn’t get through to the industry quickly enough
  • The day to day operations support integrity engineer role is not one I want to remain in for very long and as a corollary to both these points,
  • The PhD in Materials & Welding needs to get back on the agenda ASAP.

On a sightly less happy note, I got a message about one of the (Nigerian) lads at work getting fired. Truth is he’s had issues for quite a while now which the boss had put up with quite a bit, but it still rankles that he was cut off. I do not have all the facts, but I suppose in a sense it’s also a failure of the mentorship and people’s development system. It must be quite a burden when the boss, especially in a close knit group like mine, has to take a decision to let go of someone.

In other news, I am off to Nigeria in eight days. There’s the small matter of my baby sister’s wedding, as well as the niece  I am yet to see and a few loose financial ends to tie up. The step sister and the rest of the family have had drifted apart majorly over the years, and one of my objectives this trip is to try to seek her out and reconnect. Family is too precious to cut off permanently.