Fifty Shades of Green: An Epilogue, 2015

In the absence of just about anything else, 2015 can best be described as a career year.

It began in January with a new job at the London School of Economics and ended with a new job at the University of London. Those are the facts.


Just contemplating that for a moment, I cannot quite fathom what has happened. As someone who kept his first retail and bar jobs for two years each, it feels highly unusual to have jumped puddles so quickly.

The determination to prove myself following many rejections in 2014 led me to attack the job at a ferocious pace. After just nine months in post, the role I vacated at LSE had grown enough to warrant the removal of half the responsibilities for the new candidate.

Equally, the move to London, with its costs, stresses and pressures, inspired levels of proactivity and opportunism that had been sorely lacking. After ten years at university and on-going struggles as a freelancer, there is too much catching up to do to stand still.

It has surprised me how comparatively easy it becomes to get opportunities once you have a reputable institution to hand. As I made clear in my farewells, I owe LSE a debt of gratitude for taking a chance on me when nobody else would. I only left because I couldn’t afford not to.

This becomes the focus of the year for a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s a huge amount of relief at the first clear demonstration of career success since this journal began. Secondly, it is the only demonstrable success of the year.

I’ve pushed myself to the limit, and cracks are appearing. Half my ideals and behaviours are too languid and archaic to fit with the modern era. It’s stung me hard at times – in ways I’ve never experienced before.

Andrew Marvell Plaque of 'The Garden' by Lauderdale House

“It seems the paranoid are sometimes actually being followed.”

In October, I was labelled ‘green’. It was meant in a friendly way but not as a compliment, and I certainly didn’t take it as one. It came as part of an episode that blew up a slightly odd friendship, and it’s stung me hard.

Green is meant to represent a sense of the new and fresh, the blissfully naive and undeveloped. (I’ll add gullible, which sits between some of those lines.) But I know better than anyone how dangerous and multifaceted the term ‘green’ is.

I’ve demonstrated over the years how Andrew Marvell’s lyric poetry turns on its head once you understand ‘green’ as a dark force – of envy, jealousy, greed, or sickness – rather than one which exalts nature.

It’s a term with a dark heart, and I think 2015 has awoken these darker traits. I’ve been more outwardly jealous and bitter than I would like, which is especially disappointing given how I’ve been able to suppress this in the past.

It hasn’t been without provocation, it must be added. Our social interaction becomes more specific and schematic as we get older. The main gap people have in their lives is for a partner. Once you’re out of contention, or once that gap is filled, you’re instantly forgettable. And I’ve started calling people out on that.

People hate this, because it’s the easiest thing to accuse others of when it’s done to you. One big round of hypocrisy. So, it’s a point of no return. You either go quietly with dignity intact, or you go by saying your piece and leaving a mark.

Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered, the result is no different. While you can attempt to shift the blame by calling others out, the need for self-improvement is no less urgent.

I’m a stop-gap sort of person that is useful as company until something better comes along. That’s the way it’s been for as long as I can remember. If you’re particularly unlucky, someone will make it their business to give you a damning verdict. On a scale of one to ten, I’m apparently lucky to score a one.

Wills Hall Gardens

Green shades, Greener shadows

So, now that this has become such a familiar pattern, should it be any surprise that I seem a bit ‘green’?

I’m still woefully timid. I expect people to find me substandard, and I have no idea how to change that. As I explained when trying to defend myself in October, I don’t have many reasons to assume anything else.

That earned me a lecture on being more of a man, because I refused to take advantage of someone who wasn’t thinking clearly.

My thanks for acting honourably was a metaphorical slap in the face, and another layer of psychological netting that all the drink and extra disco work in December couldn’t help me through.

Where Andrew Marvell mentions ‘green’ in his poetry, there’s normally some imagery of shade or shadow lurking close by. It suggests that people who are ‘green’ will rarely stay the same shade, or that it’s rare to experience one sort of green without tints of the other.

The older you get, the more people expect of you in terms of confidence and self-assurance. Equally, though, the longer you go without fulfilment, the less of those attributes you’ll have. Such opposite trajectories cannot easily repair themselves.

Professor Frank Wilczek at LSE

Finding control

2015 was helping me to build confidence, then it blew another great hole in it. All that’s left is to numb it all out and expect time to do its normal slow rebuild.

But at least I know that by describing it in this much detail, I’m more in control of it than I have been in previous years. I’m certainly not wanting for everything.

I’m grateful, for once, to have a career to cling to. I’m grateful for great colleagues that have helped me feel like good company, even if it’s only because they are professionally obliged to spend time with me.

This is dedicated to them, with the usual pledge that I will be better for what I’ve learnt, and that as long as you have time for me, I will always have time for you.

May all that you seek be the least that you find in 2016.

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