I don’t believe that I am an exceptional person. Like anybody else, I have my strengths and weaknesses, but I’m not really convinced that I’m good at anything much at all. This isn’t false modesty: I was bright enough to cruise through school on the basis of having a pretty good memory and being naturally quite good at exams, but I don’t think that’s exceptional. At that stage of your life, those two skills are enough for most people to assume that you’re pretty bright. After all, that is how we tend to measure those things, and nobody really bothers to look much more closely than that. Some of that perception has stuck to me as I’ve moved through my life, even though the magic of my exam skills was already starting to wear a little thin as I completed my degree and my tutors started to rumble that I’m not a particularly original thinker, no matter how well-constructed my essays were.
I am certainly not exceptional.
Although, to be honest, what kind of a knob goes around believing themselves to be exceptional? Is that an assessment you can ever objectively make about yourself? The comedian Daniel Kitson used to joke that having a personalised number-plate itself doesn’t necessarily make you a dickhead, but it’s a tick in the dickhead column. Perhaps thinking yourself exceptional at something is the same: it doesn’t guarantee that you’re a dickhead, but it’s a definite tick in the dickhead column.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being average. By definition, most of us are. We must be. Not that human potential is something that can be empirically measured. Where’s the top? Who’s at the bottom? Is humanity like a giant pack of Top Trumps with 7.5b cards? What would the categories even be? Strength, intelligence, speed, cunning, self-belief, humility, humour, free jazz? Who are we kidding: there’s probably already a quiz somewhere on Facebook that will tell you exactly where you rank.
The process for redundancy involves selection pools: if you’re at risk, you are placed into a pool and there is then a selection process that determines who goes and who stays. It’s a ridiculous process really. Any kind of scoring like this is an attempt to make an entirely subjective process seem objective when really it can’t be. How could it be? How can you measure something like “Leadership” in a way that enables you to compare it between individuals? And if you could measure it, is giving it a mark from 0-4 and then applying a multiple of 3 to the score really going to give you the granularity you need to make a selection between a group of people? Of course not. And yet, that is exactly what happened to me.
I had three separate meetings relating to my scoring. The first one was to present my provisional scoring (benchmarked by three different people) and to give me an opportunity to challenge. I left that first meeting feeling bang average and with an inescapable feeling that I was fatally holed below the waterline, and not only because I felt my score was making redundancy a very real possibility. I put a lot of effort into that job, I worked hard and felt like I made a difference over the last couple of years. If that’s what you really think of me, then whatever the outcome of this process, why would I want to bother? Why would I cycle to work to be at my desk for 07:15 every morning and not walk back through my front door until gone 18:00? When I was informed of my redundancy at the next meeting a week later, my boss told me that I shouldn’t take this personally. There were two ways to react to this: on the one hand, it couldn’t be more personal as you’ve lined up my scores against everyone else’s and decided that I’m bottom of the pile. On the other hand, it’s such a manifestly flawed way of making a selection, why would I think that this was anything other than a bullshit process and your inability to score my ability?
In the end, none of that mattered. They tried to find ways for me to stay, but I turned them all down and took the money. I’ve spent nearly 22 years sitting at a desk in those buildings and now they were actually going to pay me to do something else. That in itself was probably reason enough to go, but actually staying may well have been worse as the job was getting bigger and harder and I now knew for sure that they didn’t appreciate the work that I was already doing.
It’s been quite difficult over these first two weeks to adjust to the abrupt change in pace. It’s impossible to go from working 50+ hours a week to nothing without feeling a little bit dislocated… but I haven’t missed the actual work even a tiny bit. This is a golden opportunity to do something else with my life.
Now I just need to work out what that something is.
Hopefully something where I can exceed average. Failing that, something that is making a little bit of positive difference in the world. Making a billionaire a little bit richer doesn’t really cut it for me any more.
22 hours ago