Imbricated Roles

I was made redundant in 2011 and since then I’ve startied my own business.  I attended basic courses about starting a business with Business Sheffield, decided I was fed up with working for other organisations and wanted to see what I could develop on my own.  I liked the sound of the lifestyle and so I went for it. 

You may have spotted a flaw in this plan.  No-one starts a business just because they like the sound of the lifestyle.  Do they?  I mean, don’t you need something to sell?  Looking back, I was starting on a journey of discovering who I am and what I stand for. 

I knew I was closer to the end of my life than the beginning.  Whilst I’m likely to be around for a while yet, this was my last chance to build on what had gone before and make sense of my life by offering something of value to others.

It was a big risk but I look back now with regret I did not make the decision earlier. 

My problem has always been fear.  It’s hard to be certain where it came from but my best guess is the bullying I experienced at school.  I’ve recently given it more attention than I have in a long time and reached some new conclusions.

I was very stubborn and refused to conform at school.  I hated sport and had my own interests and pursued them without regard for what others thought.  They thought I was fair game.  I suppose I viewed them with a mixture of fear and disdain.

It was all rather petty but what stands out for me is that I refused to conform despite the fear.  I always worked something out, whatever fix I was in.

But also looking back, I see how ill-equipped that fear made me.  I had no trust in others and was ambivalent about making friends.  I made many good friends eventually but it was always difficult.  I always expect to be let down.  There’s mostly downsides to that attitude except perhaps that positive feeling when someone unexpectedly delivers.  (Some argue Grumpy Old Men (and Women?) are the happiest people for this reason.)

It’s always about being prepared to take a  risk.  That’s what stopped me going into business earlier.  Once I’d understood business was not against my radical theological beliefs, I still needed the courage to take the plunge.

It’s odd though because looking back, I stood up to bullies time and again throughout my career.  One thing my bullies at school taught me was to stand up to them.  Once I see something happening that seems to be bullying, I will not let it go. 

One of my stories I’ve told before was the conflict in Attercliffe.  This was perhaps one of the most devastating experiences in my career.  It ended with a rift with people I’d worked alongside of for 5 years, people I thought of as friends.

On reflection, I at last understood where I’d gone wrong.  To put it bluntly, I was really bad at relationships.  I confused private and public relationships.  Friends are private, the people you work with are colleagues, customers or clients.

Some of the problem is endemic in the world of community development.  Development workers talk about imbricated roles, where life overlaps with work.  You could live in the community where you work, participating in everything that’s going on or else go home at 5 o’clock. 

This debate has gone on for years.  I’m sure some people have made a success of fully imbricated roles but my observations as I moved on from Attercliffe to work in Maltby was that trying to be one of the people is a big mistake.  Certainly for me, being different was a big advantage.  It reinforces the reality that I am there to help.  They need to know it and I need to remember it.

My solution was simple.  I started to wear a jacket and tie to work.  This simple change aligned me with the people.  We both knew where we stood and apart from all the usual arguments, I found this worked well for me.

Now, things have changed again.  I’ve found a place for myself in Sheffield’s business community and during the last year have started to draw a pension.  This means I no longer need to find my main income from my business.

They say that for many people the years aged 65 – 75 are the best of their lives.  I can see why this is.  Now I can explore the things that interest me and try “the things that are worth trying, even if they fail”.  Maybe there’s less risk but if that’s a problem, I can choose to take risks of my own choosing.

Day 17/21 of my writing challenge. Every weekday, I publish a short piece of writing on my subject, solitude. The writings are based on a daily prompt from Megan Macedo, who leads the challenge. These are all first drafts with minimal revision. Please comment if you find these posts helpful. Previous: Maltby Next: Good Housekeeping

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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