The New Year's spirit. Resolutions. New Beginnings.
The dawning of a New Year provokes a stirring within many among us to pause, if only briefly, to take stock of one's lot in life; to look back and draw lessons from the road traveled and gaze hopefully upon the journey ahead.
Inarguably, an occasion perhaps best contemplated in the context of solitary reflection, yet ironically the season is teeming with inescapable gatherings of long lost friends, family homecomings and ...reunions.
Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot
A little while back I found myself accompanying my wife to her twen…I mean a high school reunion that really wasn't necessary given how very little time had passed since she graduated. Almost none really.
And as every good spouse does at such events I wore a clean shirt with buttons on it, smiled and nodded on cue, and I think pretty much nailed the Oscar-worthy performance of spouse-with-no-immediately-evident-hygiene-issues-or-social-assistance-dependency.
And I am proud to declare that in a rare moment of awareness and sensitivity I somehow recognized the importance of putting my needs aside to let her to reminisce and reconnect with her high school prom dates, homeroom classmates and all the annoying, clingy people she's been avoiding on social media for the better part of the last decade.
Which basically meant I was alone with nothing to do in a room full of strangers for a couple of hours.
"So. …What do you do?"
The conventional introductory ice-breaker that has become a mindless reflex to so many strikes nothing short of abject fear into the hearts of not only those "between jobs/in career transition", but also those of us whose job is painfully difficult to describe.
While good grace dictates that in social environments, one should never speak of politics or religion, in an increasingly complex, dynamic and globalized world economy, you might want to add general inquiries about one's line of work.
As odd as this may sound, I genuinely struggle to get across what it is I do for a living.
At first I try to oversimplify.
"I work with Lloyd's of London."
Which often requires:
"No …Lloyd's is not an insurance company, it's more like a marketplace for the exchange of global risk.
"Actually it started hundreds of years ago with merchant marine traders drinking coffee... "
And with that eyes begin to glaze over, people look restlessly at their watches, excuse themselves, fake seizures…
Other times I've tried to throw out a vague overview:
"We provide risk transfer products and solutions for the global mobility marketplace and the sharing economy."
Which invariably begets:
Them: "So you insure long distance cellular telephone programs for communists?"
Me: "No…. it's really more….no wait, actually, yes, you've nailed it. That's exactly what we do. Daily, nightly, and ever-so-rightly."
Them: Interesting. (Pause) Our teenage son's auto insurance is killing us…can you get us a deal?
Me: No, I'm afraid we focus principally on the international mobility sector.
Me: Foreign mobile phones. Remember?
Them: Yes. Of course…So that's a 'no'?
Me: Yes. That's a no.
I didn't always give up so easily.
Years ago, desperate, I dusted off my old industry texts, certification manuals and course reading material only to emerge convinced that the authors themselves were disguising their own inability to nail down a simple definition with big words and overly complex sentences.
They taught me well, didn't they?
An Idle Mind…
So understandably, stick handling around the subject was more or less manageable for the first little while, but once I single-handedly depleted the supply of shrimp from the buffet table, my infantile mind began to wander.
A cursory scan of the spectacularly festooned gymnasium produced only fleeting signs of my wife and I was growing more than a bit restless. Indeed, mentally, I had one foot out the door when it dawned on me that standing there, in the cocktail sauce spattered shirt I was told to wear, I was arguably, an otherwise blank canvass of limitless potential.
For one brief moment it didn't have to be this way.
As in import to the city, I didn't know a soul, nor they I. And with the ravages of time and the hazy memories in abundant evidence throughout the room, I recognized that for a fleeting moment, I could, arguably, for one precious night, be anybody.
Let the games begin.
Watch Me Whip, Watch Me Nae Nae
Once the initial thrill of accosting strangers as long lost friends and declaring myself the recently transgendered version of their sophomore year lab partner wore off, I settle down to less sensational deceits. I started plausibly enough, recklessly throwing together the first two random nouns that popped into my head.
But this was fun, so faster than you can say Pulitzer Prize Winning Nobel Laureate I was tossing about increasingly fantastic and spectacular job descriptions and vocations almost as fast as the cocktail shrimp shells had flown in every direction about my head mere moments earlier.
For a treasury finance and risk management lifer, this was the occupational equivalent of running naked through a misty field of spring flowers.
Cruise Ship Captain.
And so, as I was in the rapturous throes of explaining the subtle difference between a safe and an unsafe space station docking, I felt a touch on my arm, saw my wife's puzzled look, and knew there and then that my carriage was about to turn back into a pumpkin as I snapped out of my reverie to find myself standing alone more or less where she had left me.
As the 2015 drew to a close, similar ponderings crept back into my cluttered headspace: What if I could do it all over again?
Were I to somehow be temporarily drawn into more glamorous and spectacular career, I suspect in the end I'd find myself running like Carey Grant back to my true soul-mate to declare my undying love at midnight.
Like Harry ran back to Sally.
Or Carrie running to see Big.
Or Paul running to kiss Ingrid.
It seems there's one for every generation. I actually had to look the last two up; apparently I'm a little behind on my Zac Efron films, which I suspect isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Anyway, the takeaway here is that if you're gonna make a New Year's movie, it it'd better have some heavy breathed racing through the streets of New York at eleven fifty something.
They have the same thing on the other side of the pond as well. Old Blighty's Love Actually, The Holiday and Bridget Jones's Diary do their charming take on a what is a hackneyed cliché that nonetheless, gets me dewey-eyed every time.
And oddly or ironically enough, it's the heavy breathed racing through the damp, narrow and uneven streets of the City of London that I love the most about what I do.
There's nothing quite like the thrill of scrambling against staggering odds to unite a lonely, lovelorn risk to the comforting arms of a besotted underwriter at the eleventh hour. Stringing together the right words in the right order and wrapping them up in actuarial mathematics to arrive at blissfully harmonious terms and rating.
Still, as far as a job description goes, I suspect that could be a little tighter.
So, my New Year's resolution for 2016 is to come up with a nice tidy and compact description of what it is that I do. Bring-Your-Dad-to-School day at the Career Fair can't be that far off and my kids are already showing early signs of being embarrassed of me as it is.
Hopefully, there'll be a buffet.
Happy New Year everyone.