From the 'Big House' into the big bad world
It’s been a little over a year since I left my career as a civil servant with Welsh Government and feel the time was right to share my story and journey towards self-employment. I spent 17 years doing hard labour (geddit?) until last year I took the rare step (ok bloody big jump!) of leaving.
I am thankful for so much from my time in the civil service. There are regrets, mostly leaving without a redundancy payment (They said no!) but not many. It’s rare to leave, but it’s not as rare as you may think, and I know a legion of people who for one reason or another no longer work inside the hallowed halls and are making their way outside.
I read a blog recently by a fellow escapee. It’s well worth a read and explores a lot of what I want to say but far more eloquently. In the fellow escapee’s article, she says she couldn’t remember when it seemed a good idea to walk away.
I can. I know the exact moment when I knew the career I wanted in an organisation I had campaigned for wasn’t for me. I can’t write about it in too much detail, but it was a devastating moment. That’s not an exaggeration either. To work where I did truly felt like a vocation I had always wanted. Working to improve Wales, the lives of people in our communities, the lives of my friends and family. What’s not to like?
It took me many years to complete my escape tunnel, other skills were developed maybe cynically knowing the end was nigh and I was all set to look for a career elsewhere. That moment had changed how I viewed things and probably how others viewed me. Positivity was less common, negativity more so and my “desk monkey” (as my fellow escapee’s blog outlines) was ruling the roost.
I knew I couldn’t just leave and hope for the best, I had to have something else to go to. I was fortunate enough to be recruited by the founder of Indycube Mark Hooper, to help guide the next stage of the Indycube enterprise. A long-time provider of co-working sites mostly in Wales, Indycube is now expanding across the UK and offering members benefits to the freelance and self-employed world as well as places to work from.
Suddenly, I became part of an organisation that does what I wanted to do...deliver real change. This was a social enterprise with social values and a social ethos at its heart - and it ‘walks the walk’ to deliver on that ethos. This is not to say Government doesn’t. It does. I did, but I wanted to do more and quicker.
I firmly believe that we can’t look to Government to always lead...we must lead ourselves. This year, Freelancers will overtake the public sector in terms of numbers. We need to support the freelance generation, the doers who go against the grain.
With Indycube, I’m supporting communities that are increasingly being left behind. We have ambitions and aspirations beyond our resources, but if you don’t aim for the stars… It’s not a large-scale organisation. In many ways I am now the IT department, the HR department, the accountant and at times the caterer. Its sink or swim in the big bad world and for me it's been an interesting year!
But has it been the right thing for me to do?
Unquestionably so. I am happier, healthier and the basic income days that come with working for Indycube have allowed me to pursue other areas I have always wanted to spend more time on. A book is in the offing and Streetmate Consulting, my “Nudge” enterprise has been involved in a few interesting projects. I’m also freer in my politics and am the current PPC for the Green Party in my home constituency.
But what of my former workplace? Life goes on, I am sure.
I think there are lots of people like me who really want the best for the organisations they work for. I tried for years to make that happen. But by the end I was demotivated and may have invited an element of negativity to my role and those around me. I don’t believe that’s unusual...but I wasn’t prepared to stay and perpetuate it.
I attended an event a while ago representing Indycube. After the event it was said in an offhand way that I hated my former employer. This was a hammer blow to someone who campaigned for devolution and spent much of their working life trying to make the most of what we have in Wales. I see myself as a critical friend of Government.
I can’t say I am not disappointed with Government in Wales. Is anyone really satisfied with what we have? Should we be happy with what we have and what we have achieved? Can we not have critical friends? Is comment and discourse that maybe goes against the current thinking automatically seen as opposition? The challenge and debate that was suggested and I expected from devolution has not materialised.
Life outside Government is so different, and an experience I would suggest we want our civil servants to experience more of. I firmly believe that we need our working sectors to work together more, to understand each other better. That won’t be easy, but getting our private, public and third sector to mix more naturally is a co-working experiment of a new kind and I think one where Wales can lead, should we want to.
There is a legendary coworking story of a company, now an incredibly successful Cardiff company, being asked to leave a Government-hosted site because they had the wrong footwear – ok they liked to walk around in their socks – but we need people to work in and alongside those people to foster understanding and support.
If we want Wales to thrive and prosper, then we need to address these issues in one of our senior public sectors. We need the Welsh civil service to be firing on all cylinders and driving the changes Wales needs if we are to prosper as a nation.
When we manage to do this well, Wales is at the forefront of what is best in the world, think single use carrier bags (Check my bio), think new rail lines, think organ donations, think removal of child burial fees, think Future Generations – there is a lot to be proud of. I just want the environment they work in to be the best it can be to get the best from them and the best for our nation.
The last year has been a huge learning curve for me, it’s been incredibly enjoyable seeing things from the other side of the coin. I’ve met truly inspiring people, from the one-man bands explaining how and why the decided to go it alone through to the larger business well on the way to becoming a fully-fledged welsh unicorn.
It's also been a year of reality checks. The bank balance at the end of the month is not what you want it to be, sometimes a late payment really hits home, sick pay isn’t just a given and pension plans don’t exist. But I’ve also seen how all these issues can be addressed and problems solved.
It's only a year but it’s a year I needed and one I really value, and who knows what the future may bring? It’s certainly not easy in the big bad world, but it has been enlightening.
Ceri Davies currently heads up Indycube in Cardiff, a community benefit society established to provide coworking facilities and membership benefits aimed at freelancers and micro business, but open to all. He also volunteers with a number of third sector organisations and is a trustee for Keep Wales Tidy and the Sherman Theatre.
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