The ecstasy of influence

2014 has been a hard year and a pulverising interview experience a couple of weeks ago threw the difficulty into sharp relief: what I’ve missed is the opportunity to feel and exert influence.

In February, I bought Jonathan Lethem’s collection of essays entitled ‘The Ecstasy of Influence’ for a friend of mine. It seemed the perfect title for a gift, speaking volumes about the basis of the friendship; mutual influence, and the ecstasy of engaging deeply with, and challenging the assumptions of, another. Ironically, soon after, the friendship dwindled.

It’s the story of 2014: the number of people I’ve been in contact with over the year has steadily reduced. I’m now unemployed for the first time since I was 17, so I have no colleagues to speak of, and being out in the wilds of London has also impacted on how regularly I see close friends and family. I’ve largely been muddling along, with just myself for company.

Pile onto that solitary scene the horror of both dealing with the DWP through the job centre – the sole purpose of which seems to be to discourage people from claiming job seekers allowance because they are ‘filthy scroungers’ – and the compound terror of repeated job applications and successive knock-backs (or worse, the excruciating pain of silence): I think that gives a flavour of a horrible year. It’s against this rising tide of rejection that I came out of that recent interview convinced that I don’t have the power to influence anybody, which limits my professional prospects considerably.

The funny thing is, though, that everybody that I know would reject this conclusion absolutely. I might not regularly declaim, nor ‘win people round’ but friends and former colleagues have suggested that the influence I have is of an altogether more quiet and pervasive kind – kind words remembered many years later, crucial advice at the start of a career freelancing, a commitment to honesty that means I’m ‘go-to’ for constructive feedback. The belief that people have shown in me – people I have utmost respect for – is astounding, and it’s the reason I have to keep picking myself back up to try again.

What I realise is that influence, the kind that elicits ecstasy, is predicated on trust and on two-way traffic. The influence I hope to exert will always be centred on the individual, on their specific circumstances – it isn’t about me, it’s about what my experience might be able to lend to them. It depends on knowing people, and when I get to know people, I’m invariably influenced by them.

So I look to bid good riddance to 2014, holding firmly and gratefully to the friendships and experiences that have made the year bearable. I enter 2015 with renewed resolve that I don’t want to be at the centre of things, with people flocking to my banner; I want to be part of the firm foundations that enable those I love and respect to flourish. With luck, there’s a job for me somewhere that will mean I can do just that.

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