- Lower your expectations -

18th May '18

In trying to rationalise everything that's been going through my mind, I've been thinking about how I got to this point of being on the cusp go leaving this job, whereas it wasn't very long ago that I thought that life couldn't get any better.

Do you remember that?

My work wasn't all encompassing like it is now. Everything was perfect.

It was still a big part of my life obviously. In fact it was still the biggest part of my life. But I still had the time everyday to cook healthy meals, to get to the gym, to do an hour or two of my course, and to relax with my PS4 for an hour at the end of the day. And that's pretty much all I want in life.

I just want the time to be a healthy person, to progress towards something or to better myself somehow, and to relax a bit and do something I enjoy.

Life was so good back then, and it was only a small number of months ago.

Even the first term of my new manager was fine, because for that first term, the outgoing manager wrote our schedule. And being an intelligent and kind human being, he catered to the needs of his staff. He understood the value of having motivated, happy employees.

Oh how things have changed since.

Since the new guy took over all operations of this school, including writing the schedule, he's been handing-out unnecessary split shifts willy-nilly, and giving teachers endless lines of classes to plan instead of trying to accommodate them by giving them the same levels multiple times. And as a result, I'm exercising... much less. And it's become much less rewarding and enjoyable, because I now have to force it into my day at the expense of something else.

I've started buying pre-made food at times as well, particularly when I'm working unnecessary split shifts because... well unless I have the time to cook something the night before, it's my only option to eat that day.

Add on the lack of sleep and the stress, and I'm fairly confident that my health has taken a nose-dive.

Hit even harder has been my programming course, which is all but non-existent in my life now, which is pretty devastating to me.

I'm still doing it whenever I have the time, and I haven't stopped or given-up on it. But having that free time, at a moment I'm not completely exhausted is... it's rare now. Which fucking sucks.

I finally had something that I wanted to do; some goal to aim for that could be something to help me build towards the future and... oh no you don't, you have an unnecessary split shift instead.

Relaxing and sleeping are kind of being traded-off between one another now as well.

Should you relax in front of the TV at the end of the day for an hour, or should you get eight hours of sleep? You decide.

As the saying goes, the most valuable commodity in the world, is time. And I no longer have any of it.

I think that a basic human function or need, is to have new things to get excited about. Whether it be a new toy or a new hobby or a new TV show to get into or just to new challenge to set yourself, you need new and fresh things in your life that you can be excited for. You need to be able to have things to discover. Things to achieve.

But what is the one thing that you need to be able to undertake any of them?

It's time.

And the way that my job is now, and the way that the schedule is being done, it's like it's robbed me of my ability to get excited about anything.

If I think of an idea for a new app that I want to make, or a new video game I want to play, or a new TV series that I hear about, or a new meal that I want to cook, instead of excitement, it's now met with exasperation.

Those things are out of reach for me now. They're things for other people to enjoy.

And as I said in the last blog, my brain is telling me that the sensible thing to do is to stick it out in this job, so that's what I'm trying to do. But at the same time, I kind of feel like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff, and it's only going to take a little push to send me over the edge and say fuck it... this job isn't worth it anymore.

The above are some amended notes that I wrote into my phone, shortly after finishing the last blog. It was before I knew what was going to happen next.

I was actually feeling a bit better after writing the last blog; it did me some good to write everything down and to clear my head.

I was also able to start exercising again (when I had the time), albeit in a very limited capacity. I've just been doing spinning classes at the gym, such is the low-impact that they have on my ankle.

It's very frustrating that it's now more than four weeks since I sprained it, and to this moment it's still not healed enough to do anything more strenuous.

Once every few days, I'll have to use my ankle a little bit more than I have been, by running for a bus, for example. And I'll get a painful reminder that... yeah, it's not healed yet.

But even so, there could be worse things than spinning classes, so being able to do at least some exercise again, made life more bearable.

I was also sitting in a restaurant a week or two ago. A place called 'Veganerie', which is this slightly pricey vegan restaurant near to a supermarket that I go to sometimes. And I was there at quite a quiet time, sitting there in my work clothes to get a quick lunch, because I can save some valuable time by going to the supermarket straight from work, instead of going home first, like would have been normal for me six months ago.

And I just happened to glance over at someone else, who was sitting on the other side of this fairly spacious restaurant working on their laptop, at exactly the right moment to be... I recognise that picture on his computer screen.

I finished my meal before disturbing him, but then went over and asked... "are you working on the to-do list app from the Udemy app development course?"

It was a bizarre coincidence, but this guy was not only doing the very same online course that I'm doing, but he was even on the same module (out of 51), that I'm on.

It was good to speak to an actual real-life person, who's doing the exact same thing that I'm doing.

"Did you get stuck on this...? Are you struggling with this...? Did you understand this...?"

It was weird to be able to suddenly have a conversation with someone about something that had been a previously faceless endeavour. It'd all just been online videos before this, and we chatted for quite a while, and exchanged contact details.

In fact the coincidences went even further. He was using the exact same MacBook Pro laptop that I have, eating lunch in the same vegan restaurant, at the same time, while living in Bangkok.

He was German, which is one thing that I would say is different, but if things go well when I go home in July, I might be a German soon too.

He was like the exact same person as me.

One thing he said that did resonate with me though, was "the one thing I've found is if you aren't able to do the course quickly, then it becomes harder because you forget what you've done already."

Sound familiar?

I shared the elevator up to my 21st floor school a couple of days earlier, with a former manager who now works as a teacher. He demoted himself a little while before I started working here, and he's not the only one in this network to do so, which should tell you something about managing at this school. But as he was telling me in the elevator, he was in charge of writing the schedules for seven years. And on the one hand he really wanted to emphasise to me that... "it's hard. It's really hard."

I can't argue with that; I don't think I ever assumed that satisfactorily scheduling what can be in excess of thirty teachers (now a little less) was ever easy. But speaking almost surprisingly freely, he also expressed how bad of a job he thinks my current manager is doing.

The main point that he said?

"He's just not communicating with people."

I didn't need vindication of how bad things are now. I'm living through it. But when someone who's sat on both sides of the fence still looks at the manager and says he's bad at this... then he's bad at this.

I spent a while thinking about where I was going to go over the next vacation. To the point that prices of flights up to Chiang Mai went up a couple of hundred baht. But not having any real success in finding an alternative, I eventually booked four nights up there just... so I could get away anywhere, really.

I could literally spend the next holiday in prison, and I'd probably benefit from the change of scenery.

I haven't booked a place to stay in Chiang Mai, and I don't know what I'm going to do there. But if I literally lie there and stare at the ceiling for four days... I'm ok with that. At least it'll be a new ceiling for the first time since August.

That need for a change of scenery is long overdue, and even with the price increase, return flights came to less than £40.

That's the good thing about taking little more than a spare pair of underwear with me. I save on baggage fees.

If you combine all this together, for the first time in a while, I was starting to feel better. Happier.

I was exercising again, albeit in a very limited capacity. I had someone that I could actually talk to my course about, who was going through the same struggles I was. I had someone who used to be a manager, vindicate everything I've been saying. So he is retarded after all, it's not just in my head. And I have a holiday to look forward to. For the first time in what will then be 285 days, I'm going to get out of Bangkok.

All of this came together and I was like... alright. Think positive. Life's not that bad after all.

Almost like a shark smells blood, my manager senses happiness, and we can't have content staff now, can we?

There was to be this second batch of intensive classes over the latter three weeks of the term.

I'd long ago pin-pointed them as a bit of a flash-point, because with my schedule the way it was, my unnecessary break on my unnecessary split shift was actually at a time when some of these classes would be scheduled. But by this stage I'd kind of forgotten about them because... well no one had mentioned anything to me, and you don't just get handed these classes out of the blue. Even my manager's not that much of a piece of shit.

Wrong!

It wasn't until I was in the staff room on the Saturday afternoon before, so just two days before these classes were due to start, that I glanced up to see an updated version of the schedule.

"What the fuck? Why the fuck have I been given one of these fucking classes?"

Thirty hours of teaching that I didn't want or ask for, suddenly handed to me without a word of explanation.

Oh, and even better, it's a level I've never taught before, so add on a couple dozen more hours of planning.

Fifty or more hours of work over the next three weeks, just handed-out to me, without my consent or even a word of warning...

Sure, I mean that's not an inappropriate thing to do or anything, is it?

Like I say, I'd run the possibility of this happening through my head beforehand, but had long since dismissed it, because even my boss isn't that much of a dickhead. Or so I thought.

But every time I'd gone through this scenario in my mind, not one time did it ever finish with me staying in this job. It was more just about how emphatically I could quit. And with that having been the only outcome I'd ever come to, the second I saw this schedule, my body just filled with rage.

I don't get angry often.

Frustrated? Sure. But angry to the point that your vision is almost pulsating and you're just a spark away from exploding?

For me that's very rare. Every few months at best, but I was suddenly just filled with anger. And I immediately stood-up and went looking for my boss. And it wasn't to tell him what a stand-up job I think he's doing, that's for sure.

Had I found him, I honestly don't know what I would have said. But for that brief moment, he wasn't lurking around behind reception like normal. Which was probably lucky for both of us.

I was able to calm myself down over the next few minutes, and regain the composure to go in and teach my next class.

I couldn't even tell you how that class went. My mind was in a different place. As far as I was concerned, I didn't even work here anymore. I was thinking about the time left on my condo lease, the flights that I already had booked to both Chiang Mai and London, the visas that I'd need to get.

Would I stay in my apartment until the end of the lease? I could use my flight back to London as a chance to take some stuff home, then come back here and clear-out the rest. Or I could just use it as a one-way flight, and be out of Bangkok in July.

I could maybe use my flights to Chiang Mai as a way of getting over to Laos and getting a two-month tourist visa, which would last me until my flights.

That was what I was thinking about as I was teaching this class.

As far as I was concerned, I didn't even work here anymore, so it was a very weird class to teach.

I was walking around the room thinking... I'm going to miss this. I'm going to miss these classes. But this is probably my last time in any of these classrooms.

I was a lot calmer by now, and come the break my boss had gone home for the day, so I had no opportunity to talk to him in person. So I decided instead that I'd write him an email.

I hadn't eaten all day by the time I got home, not since my morning smoothie. I was starving, but even more hungry to write this email, and get all the thoughts clouding my mind out and written down. So it was the first thing I did, as soon as I got back. And this email read much like how you'd expect it to read if you've followed this blog. I said pretty much the same things.

Of course with something like this; a job that I've held for over two and a half years, there was this huge sense of doubt over whether I would regret sending it or not. So I decided to wait until after I'd eaten, to see if that would change my mindset at all.

And eventually what I did was trim this email down from what was a huge essay, to just a couple of sentences, leaving-out any assertions about his competence as a manager. Just a couple of sentences saying I don't want these classes.

My mindset wasn't too different now. I still didn't really envision that I was going to remain in this job but... let's just be diplomatic.

How many of the things that you do in anger are you ultimately proud of later?

Very few. Most of the time you just regret them, so let's just stay calm and be diplomatic about this.

I mean, I didn't really see what was going to change. I didn't expect him to take this class away from me. If there was anyone available that wanted it, he'd have given it to them already, right? I mean that's what a competent manager would have done.

Oh no, wait.

He actually replied that night, although not saying very much. And so it was a very disrupted night of sleep for me.

Considering I'm short of sleep most of the time now anyway, I usually drop-off as soon as my head hits the pillow, but on this night I was lying there still wide-awake until gone 3am.

Everything was just churning through my brain, I was trying to make sense of it all.

I was trying to think rationally, and I still hadn't decided if I was going to stay in this job or not, although I'd at least go to work the next morning and finish-out the weekend.

Then as I was sitting on the toilet the next morning, my phone bleeped:

Oh.

I guess I don't really have much reason to leave now.

It was all just such a shit-show though. There was someone else available, at the time I had been given this class, who actually wanted it. Another guy, who I mentioned in the email who was after a class, was visibly upset that he didn't get one.

He has a young baby at home, so I imagine he needs the money.

And what makes it worse, is that he's one of the people who also has an unnecessary split shift, but at a different time to me. So if I swapped my late afternoon class with his early afternoon class, then neither of us would have a split shift, and he would have been available to teach this extra class.

It's just such a shit-down of disorganisation.

I just want to sit-down with my manager and ask him... "how do you get everything so wrong?"

He obviously wasn't too happy with me, and we spoke briefly on the Monday morning. It'd obviously been playing on his mind that this had even happened, because he started by paraphrasing my email to him, saying "I was a little surprised with you that you didn't want this class."

Well you know, once upon a time we used to have these things called preference forms. And we used them for this mythical thing called "communication." But then along came a big, bad retard, who scared all the preference forms away. And communication was banished forever.

After this short conversation, I do think that a lot of the frustration that me, and other people feel right now, is down to a lack of communication. Although that's going to be put to the test with the next schedule.

As I've said before, the annual preference forms that we completed in January are a fucking joke.

Not only did they lack any options, but how are you supposed to know how much time you have, or how much money you need, up to twelve months in advance?

The preference forms that we used to have were introduced years ago by someone smart enough to realise this, and had lasted through a long line of managers, until this genius decided to get rid of them on his very first day.

Really? You don't want to wait a couple of weeks, see how things run first?

No?

Ok then, on your very first day you're going to sever the main line of communication between teachers and manager.

Sure. Up to you, I guess.

I can only assume that he came here, having been ill-advised. But whatever his motivation for doing that on his very first day, it was a bone-headed move.

Other centres in our network have as few as four teachers, so there is no need or use for preference forms. Not only are you going to have a far more personal relationship with your manager in a centre that size, but there aren't going to be enough classes available, or alternative teachers available, that you can get much say in when you work.

That's not the case here. There are around thirty teachers, each comfortable teaching different classes, each comfortable working at different times of day, each comfortable with a different amount of hours. And why you, as a manager, wouldn't want to know that information, is beyond me. And I'll give this guy the benefit of the doubt and just say that, to get rid of them on his very first day, he must have been ill-informed.

That was literally the first thing that he did. And the next was that he moved his desk out the back of reception. Away to where to the best of my knowledge, the teachers aren't even allowed to go, because that's where the money is handled.

In two and a half years here, I've never once seen a teacher behind reception. So now he's sat all the way back there, with a literal barrier separating him from the teachers. Now you have to ask one of the reception girls to go and get him if you want to talk to him. Which you tend to just not do.

Unlike the previous manager, who was sat bang in the middle of the academic office, so you would have passing conversations with all the time, slipping-in little things like the levels you enjoyed teaching, now you basically had a manager that you couldn't talk to.

There were no preference forms, and you wouldn't really speak to him in person.

And then the next thing he did was send around an email to everyone saying that we're going to be fired, which not only made you dislike this guy all of a sudden, and who wants to talk to someone that they don't like? But it made you apprehensive about anything you did say around him.

One wrong word could cost you your job, so he basically just cut-off communication with his staff.

He never says much to us, we don't say much to him. And the complete lack of information travelling in both directions, is really why we're in this mess in the first place.

If people don't know why he's making decisions, then they're going to draw their own conclusions.

Maybe there's a reason I'm having to plan so many levels. Maybe there's a reason people have unnecessary split shifts. But seeing as we don't know what those reasons are, people have been left to just draw their own conclusions, which have generally been that he's either incompetent, or a cunt.

Or both.

And in this brief conversation that I shared with him on the Monday, where he was visibly frustrated that I'd politely questioned being given this class, I drew the conclusion that a lack of communication could explain at least some of the bullshit that's been happening with the schedule.

All of it?

Probably not. But some of it at least.

And right now we're about four days removed from that conversation, and it looks like I'll make it to the end of this term at least. But in this conversation, having articulated, face-to-face, in words, exactly what I think is ok to have as a schedule, next term's going to be quite telling.

He's quite a vindictive guy. You can see in the schedule that the people he likes, get the better classes.

I think that up until this incident, I was one of them, hence how I'm one of the few teachers to avoid things like juniors classes. Although I'm also a little bit of an anomaly, in that most teachers want as many hours as possible, so get punished with lighter schedules. I see that as reward though, and my punishment for being a good teacher has been getting far more classes that I've requested.

For what little it's worth, on my preference form I've said my ideal weekday hours is ten. If I'd taken this intensive class, I'd have been teaching 25 weekday hours. Two and a half times what I actually want.

So now that I'm out of favour, what the Hell happens next term? Do I get more classes? Do I get less classes?

I'm basically resigned to the fact I'll be teaching juniors next term now. I'm one of the only people left who hasn't, and he's not too happy with me right now, so that's almost a foregone conclusion. But beyond that?

While all of this was going on, and I genuinely didn't know if I was going to stay in this job or not, one thing that was of concern to me, was that back on the 7th September 2015, I'd given my various certificates (degree certificate, CELTA certificate etc) to the school's visa guy. He wanted to keep hold of them, because he needs them for things like renewing your work visa. And I've always been happy for him to hold-onto them, because I don't need them for anything.

My one worry in all of this though, was if I leave this job abruptly, there's going to have to be a moment when I sheepishly return, and ask for my certificates back.

It was actually my biggest concern in just leaving this job. So another thing I did on the Monday, was subtly talk to the girl who's the go-between for the teachers and the visa guy, and I asked her to get them back for me.

She's cool, she knows what's up. She knows who to speak in front of, and how to do things subtly. In fact, in that sense, she probably has a better idea of who's thinking of leaving this job than the manager does. And she subtly retrieved these certificates for me, so that's one less thing to worry about.

I don't keep much at the school anyway, but at the end of this term, I'm going to be clearing-out my locker.

I still hope to make it through next term, because if I do, then I get a term off, and who knows how the situation will change, and how my mindset might change by getting away from this school for eight weeks. But despite that hope, as I said at the beginning, I'm kind of standing on the edge of a cliff, and it's only going to take a little push for me to say... fuck it, I'm done with this job. And if this guy's a dick with the schedule next term, then who knows what's going to happen?

I'm very at peace with potentially leaving this job though. In my head I've already left it once this week, so if it happens again, it's not going to be much of a shock.

We'll see though. I imagine that getting away to Chiang Mai and just looking back at things here from a distance for a few days will make a difference. Maybe I'll come back, invigorated and excited to start working my unnecessary split shifts again.

Who knows?

"What screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be."

I've never really understood the trend of captioning some inspirational quote to every single picture of the Starbucks coffee that you post to Instagram, like it somehow distracts from the fact that you're so insecure that you can't drink a cup of coffee without posting about it on the Internet.

However, someone who I was once friends with posted this quote on her Instagram, and it kind of resonated with my situation.

I think I have too much of a set-image in my mind of how things should be.

Not unjustifiably, because things were as I want them to be, under both previous managers. Just communicating with and respecting your staff, and not being a dick.

But... ok, everyone is different. That picture in my head of how things are supposed to be is a thing of the past. How are things now?

They're not like that any more, so there's no point yearning for what doesn't exist. The whole focus of our evolution is being able to adapt to different situations. You either adapt to what you're faced with, or you die. That is evolution. And right now, I'm struggling to adapt. I'm struggling to evolve to what my current predicament is.

To which the moral of the story is:

Lower your expectations, there's a retard in charge now.