Wide Open Enclosed Spaces: Contracting My Services

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland Skyline

Even before arriving in Auckland, I had registered with recruitment agencies. After months of living off my savings while applying in vain to any role remotely related to writing (including sub-editor of the New Zealand Seafood Industry Magazine), I was willing to surrender my career ambitions for the sake of my finances and self-esteem.  I just wanted a job.

Whereas in Wellington I had been persona non grata amongst the human resources community, I had three interviews in Auckland within the first week.   While each agency seemed to have a special relationship with a particular company or industry, they all offered more or less the same opportunity: a full-time, temporary, decently paid data entry contract with a multinational corporation.  The agency would pay my salary, and as a contractor, I would receive no compensation for sick days, holiday leave, or health insurance. As there was not much difference between the positions, I made my choice based on a popularity contest.  I went with my favorite consultant: a delightful Canadian woman (a redundancy in terms, I realize), refreshingly honest and reliable, who placed me in the finance department of a large software company.

The part of my job I most enjoy has to be the walk to work (or, better yet, the walk home from work).  The office is located an ambitious forty-minutes from my flat. I’m certainly not an early riser, but there’s no way I would trade my early morning meander for an extra half-hour in bed, even if it does mean wearing trainers with my work clothes and changing shoes at the office.  (Personally, I think that, just as there is a law that kids must wear helmets when riding a bike, there should be a law that all women have to walk to work in comfortable shoes.  Then we could all wear sneakers with black nylons and a skirt with no shame or stigma.)

My South African hair stylist recently confessed that when she first moved to Auckland after living in London for eight years, she was miserable.   Auckland may be a wonderful city and place to live, but it wasn’t London, which she missed terribly. “You always hate it when you first get there, don’t you?” she sighed. Committed to staying here with her Kiwi boyfriend, she began going for a run every day and forcing herself to focus on the positive aspects of Auckland. It took time (about a year), patience, and will power, but eventually, she came to accept and embrace her new home. That is exactly why I walk to work.

Auckland is hardly the highlight of New Zealand or the epicenter of the cultural universe, but of all the major cities I’ve visited or lived in, it’s certainly one of the most manageable, breathable, and balanced.  The hills provide awesome views of both the skyline and the harbor (and my legs look amazing). The whole city smells of cut grass and fresh flowers, and the streets are lined with trees, homes, and gardens.

And then there’s the weather.  I used to mock anyone under the age of 65 who said things like, “we live in Florida because it’s sunny all year round,” but it’s amazing how dramatically a few degrees and a little bit of sunshine can change your quality of life.  When I left the house in Wellington, bundled in wool from head to toe, I felt like a child forced to wear a winter coat over a Halloween costume.  But in Auckland, it’s so humid that as soon as you start to generate body heat, you feel as though you are trapped inside a wet suit.

The building where I work follows the “open spaces make happy spaces” philosophy of corporate architecture, and looks as if it were designed and decorated by Oprah. The outer walls are floor to ceiling glass.  There are breakout areas with magenta couches and stacks of magazines.  Instead of cubicles, there are pods.  The columns are wallpapered with images typically reserved for children’s pajamas – sharks, crayons, and French fries.  And everyday is casual Friday.

My team is comprised almost entirely of women in their late-twenties (maybe that’s why my manager sits on a different floor).  We all get on really well, which means that everyday I eat lunch and have tea with friends.  And there are the fringe benefits – monthly back massages, team lunches, free movie screenings, gift vouchers to bars in the Viaduct. Really, I can’t complain; but of course, I do.

It may be a wonderful place to work, for the most part, but the work itself is not so wonderful.  At first, I was doing routine data entry so mindless I was able to perform my job while listening to podcasts (check out the “When You Should Be Working” list to the right for recommendations) and keeping up on current affairs.  My attitude was something along the lines of, “As long as I don’t get fired…”

Then, team members quit or went on holiday, and my manager passed some of their responsibilities to me.  Suddenly, I had deadlines and stress.  If I made mistakes, it mattered and people noticed.  I ate lunch at my desk and worked overtime.  I had to focus, unable to listen to a single song or read a single New York Times article. I had not anticipated having to learn complicated processes or make challenging decisions.  Antsy I could handle, but I didn’t appreciate feeling anxious. I became irritated and aggrieved.

Perhaps the part of my job I have least enjoyed has been my initial approach to it. Each day, there were a few (or five) moments when I was taken over by the Rage.  I would think of all of the things I could be doing, like writing, or reading in the park, or lying on the beach, and start to resent spending the best hours of my day copying and pasting numbers into spreadsheets.  But with the help of a little deep breathing, I’ve stopped seeing my job as a waste of time, and started to see it for what it truly is – the best-case scenario.

Making your dreams come true is a long process, especially when your life lacks continuity. Given where I am in the journey, this is pretty much good as it gets; and I’m fairly certain whining never made things move faster.  Surely, it’s possible to work hard without all the gratuitous blood, sweat, and tears, and to take my job seriously without losing perspective. The global economy will not crash if I don’t upload forms into the database by day’s end, but it might cause more work for my colleagues.

Above all, I keep reminding myself that this situation is temporary.   Those flashes of boredom and anguish arise and pass, if I let them. The distress of being trapped inside all day evaporates as soon as I walk out the front door.  And this phase of my life, when I have to do unfulfilling jobs to finance my gypsy lifestyle and literary aspirations, will not last forever.  In fact, the department director has decided to downsize my team at the end of January, which works out perfectly, as I had planned to travel for the month of February before moving to Australia.  They can’t make me redundant; my visa expires.

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