The first of a three-part story by CareerActually contributor Peter Luscombe.
James was simply fed-up. As he sat on the edge of his bed to put on his shoes in readiness for yet another day at work, he wondered how much longer he could face up to work with a blithe attitude. Over past months, with tightening budgets which meant clamping down any protest or complaint in the face of what was claimed as ‘a sign of the times,’ with increased need to do more in the same hours which inevitably meant taking work home … which spun off to less time with his family … which spun off again into frustration with a lack of work/life balance … which … James sighed in the face of the realization of just how dis-satisfied he’d become at work.
‘Ring in for a sickie?’ the question crossed James’ mind. He’d resisted the urge in the past. He knew taking ‘sickies’ was a slippery slope. Take one to avoid work, then take another, and then questions start to be asked. Accountability can’t be avoided. Besides, James knew that ‘sickies’ were at best circuit-breakers and at worse a pattern of work avoidance. ‘Better I just go into work,’ he reluctantly thought as he put on first one shoe then the next. As he stood, James was unexpectedly struck by how the left shoe seemed to somewhat pinch. He ignored that as he went to the study to collect his work satchel.
Gloria, James’ wife and mother of their two children, sat at the kitchen table with a bowl of muesli and the morning newspaper. She smiled as James bent to peck her on the cheek, then said: ‘Any idea when you’ll be home?’ There was a certain flat tone to her enquiry as if she already knew the answer.
‘I’ll do my best to be home on time.’
Gloria gave another smile, however, there was no light in her eyes as she turned to the newspaper again as James walked out the back door.
At the train station James waited in line with all the other commuters. He felt apart from those who exchanged news about what they’d done last night, what they anticipated for the work day and beyond. Somewhere along these past months it seemed that he’d became alienated from such exchanges. Not wanting to sound like a ‘downer,’ he’d simply begun to keep himself to himself. ‘My worried thoughts and misgivings aren’t theirs so best kept to myself,’ had become the motto. So successful was the ‘mask’ that even Jane, who now stepped in beside him in her usual waiting-for-the-train space, Jane with a ready smile and always something amusing to say about her job, had no idea.
“So, exciting time with the Addison account. We thought it was about to fall through and voila! Everything fell into place,” Jane said as the train shunted them forth into the work day.
“Good for you. So exciting, right?” James replied, hoping his comment didn’t sound hollow. That had been happening more and more of late; platitudes. James knew that voicing well-meaning, yet hollow comments, had a use-by-date; especially so with Jane who was as perspicacious with people as she was about achieving her way at work. After all, it was Jane who first voiced the possibility he change jobs because she felt he was under-utilized at Cohen & Cohen. James felt the pinch of his left shoe again and wondered if he was suffering from water retention. It was likely because he’d not been exercising of late, felt bloated after a meal and felt, honestly, Blah!
At their city destination, Jane squeezed James’ arm before heading off down the street in a flurry of energy. James stood there; simply watching. Workers passed – walked in front and behind – passing James as they purposefully scurried to work. A wave of sadness rushed over him. ‘I was like that once. Anticipating my arrival to work. Ready to engage. See through some challenge. Now?’ Pushing that thought to one side, stepping forth to wait at the traffic lights which inevitably cycled through – Stop – Go – Caution/Wait – James quelled any rebellious thoughts.
With reluctance along the path to his work place, even with cobbled together mettle, James arrived feeling lack lustre. Surveying his cleared desk, he knew he’d filed away papers in the ‘later’ file which was growing. Pulling out that growing file was the first order of the day. ‘Matters I need to deal with like soon!’ flared across James’ mind. With that he flicked on his PC. Walking away to let his PC fire up for the day, James sauntered off to make coffee. ‘This day will be different. I will manage better today,’ were James stirring thoughts as he stirred two sugars into his coffee.
Returning to his desk, James immediately saw nine new e-mails;three were marked with – ‘High Importance.’ Unexpected alarm bells went off – James put his cup of coffee down because his hand was shaking. ‘Three Important!’ rattled through James’ mind. ‘All right now!’ They read as follows:
To: Cohen & Cohen
From: Blair Associates
Re: Additional documents – enclosed.
All enclosed. Should be fine now.
James realized, with some relief, that he’d kicked into panic mode quite unnecessarily.
To: Cohen & Cohen
From: Docklands Securities
Re: Outstanding payment of account.
We have no record of payment made in November.
If that is the claim then provision of records to account is required.
Service at the end of the month will terminate.
James felt like the emotional roller coaster was about to begin – yet again.
To: Cohen & Cohen – James
From: Epoch Enterprise
Unfortunately, you missed placement in the seminar – ‘Wise Work Ways.’
Really, James, if you want to attend these seminars then you have to get in early. You forwarded your application too late.
Never mind. I know it’s flat chat at work.
Anyway, I’ve enclosed [attachment] two others coming up that might be of interest.
Let me know.
Give my love to Gloria and tell the two ‘brats’ Auntie Amanda will visit soon as.
James felt the now customary knot of anxiety in his stomach tighten. He’d wanted to attend that seminar. ‘Damn!’ he thought. ‘I should have sent that application much earlier! Damn! Serves me right for missing out. I’m a fool!’ With a feeling of self-disgust James swivelled his chair away from the computer and opened the ‘later’ file. Overnight it seemed to have grown plumper.