It's so easy to have regrets, usually over the things we didn't do. But nor is there necessarily a right way, or a correct sequence, for gaining experience. Here are some of the jobs I've held before working in public relations that I still draw on today in my university teaching:
We encourage students to become 'reflective learners' - but in general undergraduates are poor at reflection. Some assume they're perfect and all assume that they're perfectible works-in-progress.
I know differently. I've never been perfect and with age my character flaws have grown ever more apparent. But my strengths are equally clear and as adults we become proficient at masking the one with the other.
So here's my reflection on my (academic) year, starting with what's gone well. For context, I returned to a full-time role in September after an inexplicable year of trying something different.
It's a minor and meaningless achievement, but one I'd been edging close to for some time.
I've just achieved average daily page views of 100 over the seven year life of this blog.
The absolute numbers are small - and unimportant to me - but the average is pleasing and the movement is still in the right direction.
There may be some lessons here for newcomers in building a presence despite infrequent posting, so here's my analysis:
On the eve of a milestone birthday, I've been looking back on the technologies that have inspired or influenced me.
1960s: The space race. I don't remember JFK's commitment at the start of the decade to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, though I've since read this speech. But I do remember the grainy black and white images of the space walk, and the famous fluffed line: 'one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind'.
Perhaps it wasn't such a giant leap, but it was a galvanising moment. Like all primary school children in the sixties, I thought life by the year 2000 was going to be a pill-popping space adventure. Wrong.
1970s: This was the hard one, as it was a decade of inflation and industrial decline. But my paragraphs above give some clues. For me, the seventies was about Concorde and colour television.
I remember the sight of Concorde on its test flights above Bristol in about 1970 and can still recall the name of the test pilot - Brian Trubshaw.* We now know Concorde to have been an expensive failure, but it was a technical and aesthetic triumph and a sign of the international cooperation that continues with Airbus at the same Filton site today.
It's hard to imagine what colour televison meant, but for the only time in my life I was willing to watch golf because of the green, green grass. I could have looked out of the window, of course, but television held my attention.
1980s: Though computers were a rarity at the start of the decade and I had paid someone to type up my hand-written university dissertations, the technology of the eighties that most excited me was the personal computer.
Acorn or BBC Micro? Mac or IBM PC? PC or PS/2? These were compelling quesions and by the middle of the decade I was shuttling between magazine offices in London and New York reporting on business technology. By the end of the decade I was a public relations consultant with some of the best clients in the global technology industry.
1990s: Windows and the World Wide Web. Those early PCs were standalone, with monochrome screens, and running MS-DOS. Windows 3.0 was a revelation when launched in 1990. Thought the importance of the operating system is now diminished because of the World Wide Web, I will group them together in my review of the decade. I wasn't a web early adopter, but I created my first personal web page in 1995.
2000s: Smartphones and the social web. Tim Berners-Lee had the vision, but most of us did not have the technology or the bandwidth to realise the potential until this decade. I'd been talking about internet telephony and internet appliances in the 1990s and it had seemed fanciful. Now Skype is unremarkable and we're talking about the 'internet of things'. The social web is a reminder that technology is not the answer in itself; it's how people use technology that's exciting.
I'd been testing not-very mobile phones in the 1980s; owning smaller ones throughout the 1990s, but it's only in the last decade that the promise of the mobile internet has become a reality (remember WAP?).
* I now remember much less, relying increasingly on Google to act as my memory bank. 'The cloud' deserves a mention in this review (that talk of PCs and operating systems is an irrelevance now.)
I'm not too fond of rules, so here are the guidelines that help me navigate my favourite social networks (with particular reference to contact with students):
'Never go back' has always been a useful motto - as well as a statement of the obvious given the inexorable passage of time.
So why am I disregarding it and returning to my old lecturing job at Leeds Met? Well, I do so a bit chastened, but with some relief. I also do so humbly, knowing there were some good candidates in the running.
I've had a mixed time since leaving full-time employment almost two years ago. 2009 was a difficult year that ended in disappointment (let's just say that the timing wasn't right for me at the University of Gloucestershire). 2010 has been busy and challenging (how many university lecturers work flat-out in August, including several weekends?), but the highlight was leading a summer course for high-achieving graduates studying with Johns Hopkins University.
The cash flow has been acceptable - but as a freelance you live with uncertainty and the constant threat of famine. I hope not to lose sight of my instinct to take on new challenges despite returning to the payroll.
'Not exactly a team player' was a damning but truthful comment made of me in a graduate interview I attended long ago. Despite this, I value loyalty. I've continued working for Leeds Met despite 'leaving' and I'm immeasurably grateful for their loyalty to me. I value the contact with students and graduates too (another two-way street as I often find myself writing references and giving advice).
Opposite of exotic
Before the resumption, I'm taking some days' leave (holiday would be a misleading term). One of the side-effects of being married to a travel writer is the decision over holidays: we often choose not to go far.
Next week, we'll be on a small island off the north west coast of Wales, living in a house without electricity, running water, internet or even a phone signal. There are no shops, few people, no roads. Nothing. Our holiday is about the absence of things. This may sound strange, but until recent decades most of humanity has lived like this. Many of us in western societies could benefit more from the absence of things than from yet more surplus.
Gail recommends it highly. Perhaps I'll find another reason to break my 'never go back' motto.