Paul Whitehead is a Learning & Development Consultant & Freelance Writer based in Glasgow. Here he shares his written piece titled “Pause and Reset”.
Work is all or nothing. For me, the Pandemic hasn’t been a system reset, more the final shift in the gears down to zero.
For 22 years my work was all-consuming. First as a business journalist, and later as a learning & development specialist.
Work started with the Radio 4 news at 6:30 am. Were there any stories breaking that I’d need to follow? Then two hours of trains and tubes. If I had a seat, I’d prop up my laptop and work on a story or a feature.
Then when smartphones came, there was no escape from the unrelenting flow of content.
Always busy, always plugged in. Night and day.
Weekends could be swallowed by events: the Fukushima earthquake and near nuclear disaster in Japan, another EU summit going down to the wire. News never stopped, and neither did I.
I found what I loved most was helping train new journalists, so I made a career shift into learning and development. But that took me all over the world: catching Saturday flights to Singapore and arriving Sunday evening. Two jam-packed weeks of training ensued, mostly jet-lagged. Then back to London to do the same, before jetting off to Houston or New York.
It wasn’t sustainable.
And in 2018, when my mother died, I took a long hard look in the mirror and decided it was time to make a change: to live in the same city I worked in, instead of commuting a hundred miles a day; to leave behind the “always on” word of global corporate business; to give me and my family a fresh start, where weekends meant trips to the mountains or the sea instead of early morning taxis to airports.
I needed to unplug to recharge.
I took my last train home from work, and three days later packed up my life and took it to Glasgow, where I hoped I’d soon find work in the city centre, a few miles from our new home in Shawlands.
Job-hunting was slow. I took up freelance work – just about enough to pay the bills. And suddenly I had time: to escape into nature, to cook, to brew beer and just enjoy life with my family.
Then came the pandemic.
Not much changed at first, but then the work I had slowly dried up along with the job vacancies.
The work/life balance has gone from work/work to life/life in just over a year. That has huge positives. But it also means the time/money equation is shifting. Having all the time in the world and no money is taking its toll.
I missed out on government support because I became self-employed in the “wrong” year. I didn’t file a tax return in 2018/19 so I don’t qualify for help for the self-employed. Instead, after 22 years of paying taxes, I’m only entitled to £74 a week Job Seekers’ Allowance. It helps with the food shopping, but for the rest I’m living off the money mum left me.
I’m one of an estimated 3 million self-employed who’ve fallen through the cracks. I keep hoping the UK government will right this wrong, and realise that with no income, we can’t be part of the recovery. I fear it will get worse before it gets better.
I can’t have lazy days; I’d get depressed and feel the need to search even harder for that elusive job. Instead, I keep busy with work that isn’t paid: Voluntary roles, helping friends and contacts with their writing, a little bit of coaching here and there, learning a new language… joining a writers’ group.
I’ve started to see jobs again, and get interviews, but it’s more competitive then ever. Where there were once hundreds of applicants, there are now thousands. It can only get harder as furlough ends.
I don’t miss the “busyness” of before but I still need to be busy; busy doing the things that have meaning for me even if they aren’t a means to an economic end. But I know it can’t last. I need balance in my life.
Some work and some play, but mostly, right now, some pay.