Pete Hanson once told me “I’m gonna twat you after school cos your socks are gay”. Looking back, it’s hard to understand how this kind of punitive injustice is allowed to underpin the societal structure of English comprehensive schools. But immersed in the microcosm of secondary education you have little choice but to play by the rules of the harder kids, however brutal and irrational their behaviour later reveals itself to be.
While there’s no longer any threat of bigoted bullies at the school gates, that latent dread of something looming dark on the horizon is still a familiar feeling. It gestates when you get wind of a difficult project or overwhelmingly complicated task. And it feels like watching the clock creep inexorably towards 3.30pm all over again, waiting for Pete to dispense his senseless homophobic vigilantism.
So in response to a dreadful project, you avoid thinking about it and distract yourself with other activities. Yet still it lurks in the shadows, poking you in the stomach whenever your mind wanders.
Thankfully, there’s an effective way to offset the cramping sensation of anxiety. It involves beating the bullies at their own game too.
- Decide how you want to feel about the threat. Face up to it and make a decision not to be intimidated.
- Visualise how you want things to turn out. Replace fear with anticipation and look forward to the enthusiasm that comes with getting stuck into any task you volunteer yourself for.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. That’s how humans learn.
If the burden feels too great, share it with other people. I squealed to our head of year, Mrs Hewitt, about Pete’s violent designs on my footwear. She called him into her office and got his side of the story. He quickly apologised because he didn’t realise how scary his largely empty threats were. As a freelancer you could liken this approach to being upfront with your client about unrealistic complexity or timescales. Ask whether a deadline is really going to happen or if it’s all just talk.
There’s an obvious parallel with the ‘So what do you want out of this?’ chapter of The Human Freelancer book, which explains the importance of beginning anything with a vision in your mind of how you want it to be. Otherwise you’re a slave to chaos and the myriad bullies in life who can’t wait to persecute you for your choice of underwear.
As a it turns out, the complex nuances of human sexuality are determined by forces more powerful than the colour and pattern of your socks. Hopefully Pete fathomed that out for himself whilst cold-calling hateful prospects from the BT Cellnet call centre in Runcorn. These days I even own a fetching pink T-shirt that my wife is fond of, I’d love to know what he makes of that.
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