24 April, 2006

Demotion sickness

It's a peculiar fact of my life that each of my sequential jobs has brought with it a diminishing of responsibilities, so much so that I now have less authority, seniority and all-round influence in my line of employment (such as it is) than I had five or six years ago.

I realise in retrospect that I've readily endorsed a kind of demotion by stealth, in that I've had to take jobs which have over time necessitated a contraction of my abilities and skills in exchange for a degree of notional stability and permanence. It's like I've repeatedly signed up for positions which have required a trading in of promotion and prospects in exchange for the unspoken assumption that if I keep quiet and shut up I'll be guaranteed a wage as long as I want one.

It's a rotten state of affairs, really, as it plays upon two of my most profound and enduring fears: instability and impermenance. I hated the way I was so belittled and undermined in my previous job and spent over 18 months trying to leave. But at the same time there was never any likelihood of my losing that job under anybody else's volition except mine. Given that fatally long period was also witness to a total negation of my responsibilities, close to ongoing daily humiliation, no wonder some of those dismal entires from the arse end of last year were quite so, well, dismal.

Yet I can't hide from the facts. At one point in my life I had so much responsibility I was even in a position where I was charged with opening up an entire library. For a spell I also had the mixed privilege of having undergraduate students purport to hang on my every word in my guise as a freelance tutor and lecturer. I've had a book published, co-written another, turned up as an "expert" on a Channel 4 clips programme and a number of Radio 5 Live phone-ins, worked for a breakfast radio programme, and interviewed a former Director-General of the BBC.

In my previous job I used to chair meetings. Now I only attend them, sitting in the corner, mute and unemotional, listening and taking notes and nodding when everybody else does.

Why have I engineered such a singular turn of events? Or rather, why have I let such a turn of events imprint itself upon me and my vastly diminishing status and self-worth? And why, given my supposed pursuit of the stable and the permanent, do I still, after all these years, feel perilously unsettled and deeply insecure?

These are conundrums with which I grapple most days from the moment I wake up, and with which I fight from the moment I close my eyes every night. But always, tragically, achingly, by myself.


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