Advice from an alien ..

17th December 2010 at 00:00

I was recently asked, along with a number of other people, to make a "talking head" video about my career path, the gist of which was: "How I got where I am today".

This presented me with a number of problems. Issue one was technical. My video-editing program only pretended to like the file format used by my camera. It kept up the pretence long enough for me to spend a couple of hours editing the video; then when I came to render the final film, it refused to do it in any format that didn't compress the frame horizontally to the extent that I looked like a pointy-heidit alien.

Worse was the sound quality, which seemed to convert every "s" sound into a whistle, as if spoken through ill-fitting false teeth. When you're trying to say, "My name is Gregor Steele and I'm an ex-secondary physicist who works for SSERC, the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre", that's not good.

Where there's a geek, there's a way and, eventually, I no longer sounded like I was auditioning for a Chewin' the Fat sketch.

More difficult to get around were the problems of scripting the video. First, I found that I wanted to use the phrase, "I was lucky enough to ." rather a lot. In the end, I settled for being lucky to have good role models and, more importantly, to work with people who trusted me to take on something new. It was quite common, when I started, for the principal teacher to hog all the best classes. Had my PT not let me loose on the sixth year studies projects when I was little more than a laddie, I don't know that I'd be SSERCing today.

One of the things I had to mention in my piece was choices. I had problems here not sounding glib or goody-goody. Glib, for saying that there was more to life than work, because I have tried not to take on roles incompatible with family life. Goody-goody, because I have chosen never simply to follow the money.

This is not noble: it is sheer self-interest. I know there were jobs I could have applied for but would not have been good at. It's not simply that I wanted to avoid a lot more misery for a bit more cash. I believe that following the money can be a dead end. You end up somewhere that makes you unhappy, you fail to thrive in the role and you therefore never progress out of it.

I also had to admit to the mixed emotions I feel when trusting a role to a colleague, the way I had been trusted myself. It's ultimately gratifying, but just a little hard to take when they rise to a challenge and end up doing the job notably better than I could ever do it myself.

So, I didn't get where I am today without being lucky, trusted, careful, trusting and grateful. I think it was Tommy Cooper who remarked of the man who went to the doctors claiming to be unable to pronounce his Fs and Ths: "Well, you can't say fairer than that, then."

Gregor Steele had to avoid unwanted reflections from his head when making his video.

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