New year... new me?

Animated GIF of Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation) saying 'This idea better be good'

Yeah, ok, it’s late February, so a bit late for a “new year, new me” declaration, but I’ve been feeling like I should write a little something about… *waves hands in a generalised and unspecified fashion*. So this is a relatively short post about leaving the civil service last year, what I’ve done since and what I’m thinking about for the future.

Leaving the Civil Service

At the end of July 2022, after 15 and a half years I left the Civil Service. There’s a longer post that I probably ought to write1 about why I left and some of the key lessons and reflections I have from my time in government2.

Animated GIF of Ron Swanson (from Parks and Recreation) saying: 'I don't believe in government'

Long story short, and to mix metaphors, I felt I’d hit a brick wall and/or was flogging a dead horse, but also that I’d run out of steam. I had previously taken a career break in late 2015, which I extended to cover a stint working for the OECD before coming back to the Civil Service in autumn 2017, but ultimately I felt that a more concrete split was needed this time around3.

I was fortunate enough to be able to take the risk of resigning without having another job lined up straight away. Honestly, I’d been considering leaving my role for quite some time. When I returned from my first career break in 2017 it was largely for a specific project4 and I hadn’t actively committed to returning for another long stint. In mid-2019 the InCiSE project had published its second edition reports, other small projects continued to tide me over, as well as helping the latest person to lead the People Survey team get to grips with the project5. … [Insert standard “and then in 2020 the world changed” lines here.] … But yeah, then came Covid-19, and without going into details, I felt exceptionally lost. My role changed focus in 2021, however I eventually ended up feeling like I’d both hit a brick wall and was flogging a dead horse.

Netflix and…

A mix of having no dependents, some savings, and changes in the running of my family’s business meant that I could afford to leave and spend a couple of months without having a job to figure out what I’d do next6.

Animated GIF of Stewie Griffin (from Family Guy) looking tired and rocking back and forth in his cot

In the months between handing in my resignation and leaving, and afterwards, I needed an answer to the question “what are you going to do next?”, because people don’t like it you say “I don’t know” or “nothing”. As someone in their late 30s I’m expected to have plans, I’m expected to know what I’m doing7 and so the answer was “oh I’m going to take a couple of months ‘off’ and then starting out as ‘freelance data scientist’ from September”. That is the general plan, as we’ll come to see, but it’s a slower timetable.

“September” soon became “October” and then “November”, and by then there’s no point in doing something before the new year.

Despite all this time, I’ve not finished Netflix8, nor have I done a grand tour of Europe or South East Asia.

New year… new me?

So now we’re definitely in the new year, the gas bills for December and January were not pretty, and I also need some sort of structure/routine in my days.

Animated GIF of Jean Luc Picard (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) looking pensive and puffing out his cheeks

After a trip away for some winter sun at the start of February I’m finally getting into the swing of things. I’ve put together a portfolio website9, though arguably its missing an item about the biggest project in my career history10. I’ve just started a freelance contract and have a couple of other things in the pipeline.

Finally, there’s my various “side”/“open source” projects that I’ve started but not done anything on for a while. In being ‘busy’ again, I’m starting to feel like I’m motivated to put some effort into developing them again11. And, I might (no promises) blog a bit more1213.

  1. Or series of posts most likely. ↩︎

  2. I did provide some brief reflections at the Institute for Government’s Data Bites #33 event in September 2022. ↩︎

  3. I was also finding it increasingly difficult to feel able to work for a government I did not believe in. Contrary to the sentiment expressed by Ron Swanson in the GIF, I do continue to believe in government, and more specifically in the principle of an impartial civil service that serves the government of the day without fear or favour. But, personally I’d gotten to a point where I no longer felt like I had the psychological strength to engage with the balancing act that every civil servant goes through of balancing their personal beliefs, views and ethics with the actions or positions taken by the administration they work for. ↩︎

  4. Leading the technical development of the International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) index, a collaboration between the Blavatnik School of Government (University of Oxford), the Institute for Government supported by the UK Civil Service and the Open Society Foundations. ↩︎

  5. My relationship with the Civil Service People Survey is definitely worth a couple of posts a some point. ↩︎

  6. I appreciate this is a great privilege, and it is a shame that large employers/society doesn’t see the benefit in providing a way for more people to take a mid-career break in their 30s/40s. ↩︎

  7. There’s also probably some level of guilt in here, that I’m fortunate and privileged to be able to afford (albeit briefly) to not work, especially at a time of rising costs. ↩︎

  8. Largely because I’ve just been rewatching different Star Trek franchises on repeat. Yes, surprise, I’m definitely more of a Trek than Wars nerd… that being said I watched Andor and was thoroughly impressed with it, to the extent I think it’s one of the best TV series I’ve watched in a very long time. ↩︎

  9. Probably should blog about how I put this together… though you probably won’t be surprised to learn it’s also made with Hugo. ↩︎

  10. See footnote 5. ↩︎

  11. I thought with having a load of free time with no commitments I’d devote some of that time to doing something productive, like making my {tidyods} package sufficient for posting a version to CRAN, or creating a successor to {deckhand}. ↩︎

  12. Animated GIF of the Marcia Brady 'Sure Jan' meme

  13. I did however create a particularly niche card game that I do need to blog about. ↩︎