Freelance Journalist, Editor, Copywriter and Author – Dubai

Freedom in Prison

Ora Village, Cyprus

Up until the age of about 14, growing up in Ora was fantastic. My brothers and I were free to roam the streets, which was something my mum would have never allowed when we lived in England, and the only limit to the games we would play were our imaginations. Our Sega Master System – the only games console within a 100 mile radius – was left gathering dust, while we climbed mountains, watched stars fall and played volleyball over a net homemade out of leftover string.

By the time I hit 14, however, everything changed, and I soon likened the place to a prison. I was hungry for adventure – the type of adventure a village with 200 inhabitants just doesn’t provide. I dreamt of being a city girl; I wanted to hang out in trendy coffee shops that served fancy-sounding drinks in oversized mugs – in the village, the only coffee shop catered to a predominately middle aged male clientele with a penchant for backgammon and wife beater shirts. I wanted to live somewhere that never slept – in the village, the only shop closed at 6pm and everyone was tucked up by 11pm. I wanted excitement – in the village, the only excitement came in the form of church every Sunday; not so great for an agnostic.

Cue two years of frustration, until we finally moved back to England in September 1999. And from my small hometown of Lincoln, I slowly made my way to the city of Leicester, and from Leicester to the glistening megapolis of Dubai. Soon, I was officially a city girl, living the dream – Starbucks takeout coffee in one hand and MacBook Pro in the other. I had the nice car, the fancy apartment, and my weekly mani/pedis. On the surface, I really had it all.

Then I lost it. I completely lost it, and I packed it all in and left Dubai for a life less than certain. Corporate life broke me. Or maybe I broke it – I’m still not entirely sure.

And I find myself back in Ora; admittedly, I’m only here for a short period of time, but I find it ironic how the very village I called prison has now come to symbolise my newfound freedom. For the first time in more than five years, I have time to breathe.  The open space, the mountains and the fresh air truly sing to me.

It’s quite a contrast to how I felt towards the end of my time in Dubai.

I knew from day one that offices weren’t right for me. As a night owl, I find it difficult to function before 11am, and I do all my best work in the stillness of night. So to be told that I had to be present, at a desk, from stupid o’clock in the morning until a set time in the afternoon, was torture. And, worst still, you’re told you must sit there, regardless of whether you have work or not, right until the end. I don’t like rules, especially stupid ones, and this to me is the very definition of a stupid rule.

During my time in these office-based jobs, I found something rather startling: my work to staring into space ratio was 1 to 3. And that’s an underestimation. From my experience, no one actually needs eight hours a day to complete the requirements of the average job. And if they really do, then they should question whether a) they’re actually a bit stupid or b) a job of that type of responsibility is worth sacrificing an entire life for.

I’m a fast worker when I put my mind to it; if I close my Facebook and Twitter tabs, I can easily complete everything I need to do within a few hours. However, to survive office life, I found myself spacing out the work in between countless water and toilet breaks, Googling Mitt Romney’s magic underpants, and, towards the end of my time with TDIC, building pyramids out of cubes. In short, I was dumbing myself down to fit into corporate culture.

Then there are office dynamics. I’m sorry; having the title of ‘manager’ does not qualify you to do whatever you please without being questioned. But apparently, a lot of them think that it does. In the corporate world, actual job performance only accounts for about 10 per cent of what your boss thinks of you. The other 90 per cent consists of how much (and how well) you lick their asses clean. If you get on with your boss on a personal level and possess a strong tongue, hello promotion! If you do not, well, forget it.

To date, all of my bosses have hated me. My theory is they couldn’t stand the fact that A) I question things I don’t believe are right, B) I won’t kiss up to anyone and C) I’m actually good at my job. C means that they cannot do anything about A or B. Hence, the hate part. But it’s ok; I hated them back in equal measures.

The smell of jasmine always reminds me of Ora

I found corporate life suffocating. I was chained to a desk for five days a week, doing menial work and numbing myself with way too much coffee. On top of this, for the last year and a half in the UAE, I had to endure a daily commute of three hours on the highway of death from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back. At times, I wanted to cry from frustration. The traffic, the crazy drivers and the endless road were enough to drive even the sanest person insane – and I wasn’t even completely sane to begin with.

It got to the point where almost every minute of every day was accounted for; there was no room to breathe. Yes, the weekends would remind me of how much I loved living in Dubai, but it was always short lived – a mere few hours at the pool, or at the bar, or at the bar by the pool, in exchange for five days of pure hell really wasn’t enough. And even then, a lot of the weekend was spent preparing for the week ahead, like I hadn’t sacrificed enough of my time; there was a flat to clean, laundry to do, and food to buy.

I had no time to spend with the people that I love, which was the biggest sore point. My relationships are extremely important to me – far more important than the amount of money that’s in my bank account. Yet I found myself become more and more of a recluse, as I struggled with the long commute.

I spent most of the last five years complaining of all of the aforementioned – and I frequently did it at work, within the earshot of my bosses; another reason they couldn’t stand me. But I had to go through it all to be at a point where I could freelance for a living. And once I got to that point, I looked at my life and thought – that’s enough now. That’s enough.

And now I find myself back in Ora – the prison of my youth – with all the time in the world to breathe. In just under a week, I have written so much – the words are just flowing through my hands. I feel inspired, relaxed and creative. I’m even experimenting with photography again. If I choose to write all night and sleep all day, I can. If I choose to do nothing today but work non-stop for two days on end, I can. I have the freedom I’ve craved for years and it feels every bit as great as I imagined it to be.

I think of all the people who choose a life of 9-5pm, including myself; when were we all brainwashed into believing that’s the only way? When will people finally begin to revolt against a system that places an emphasis on material possessions and takes away what matters: time with loved ones, time to do what you love, time to breathe?

Now that I’m out, I’m going to try my very best never to go back again.

  • B.

    As I mentioned to you earlier, I too don’t agree with the 9-5 torture system. The working culture nowadays ironically encourages non-productivity and lack of creativity. My main question was why is the focus leaving on time and not the productivity or output. There have been times I was not able to do anything whilst in the office thanks to the environment (that will make for another 10-page comment), but came back home, sat on the bed & completed all what I had to at my own space and speed. Also, I have to add that I hate the open seating office style. Its distracting and annoying.

    • admin

      Hello 🙂

      I agree – it definitely stifles creativity. I too, work better when I’m completely alone. And at very random times of the day, may I add.

      I wonder – do you consider yourself to be an introvert? I wrote an article on this recently, and it has been found that traditional office layouts and environments are detrimental to introverts. We prefer to work in solitude and only speak when we have something of value to say. We also hate brainstorming, which is another big corporate favourite!

      I think this also added to my hatred of these traditional environments.

  • shikha

    beautifully written! 🙂 and so so true…most time in the office is spent in ‘meetings’ which have no meaning or output!
    i have found i have begun to work better and quicker since I have been working part-time from home..i have time now to go to the gym, watch TV, spend time with myself and do nothing!!! Ahhhhh

    • admin

      Thank you 🙂

      I find the whole concept of an office very outdated, personally! There should be more freedom to come and go as you please – as long as your work is done on time and to outstanding quality, what does it matter where you’re working from?

      I think you have the ideal set-up – a few days in the office to do ‘admin’ and attend meetings, and the time at home to do the ‘real’ work. That’s how I’d do it 🙂

  • B.

    I’m a bit of both, I think I can be an extrovert when I want to, but when it comes to my working style, I am an introvert (I don’t mind the social interaction, infact I love it, but can you please shut off your music when other people are working on the desks next to you!). Yep, Ive seen the TED talk by Susan Cain and loved it. I agree with her. I too have become a full-time freelancer and am almost in the process of completing my book. I abhor office politics and think lots of people wear a facade to impress their bosses. Honesty and being genuine is a rare ingredient in working environments now. I refuse to be one of those who stare at a computer screen, play games, be constantly on facebook ‘liking’ a million pages and hating my job. Thank you very much.

    • admin

      I love Susan Cain and I loved her book. Made a lot of sense to me.

      Wow, fantastic – what are you writing a book on? Good luck with it!

      Yes, I HATE office politics. I’m one of those people who really cannot be fake – if I don’t like you, I won’t be rude, but I also won’t spend any time talking to you. It’s just the way I am. In offices, however, you have to pretend to like everyone. Not my scene…


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