It’s surreal, and disconcerting, to experience a familiar event from a different perspective. When I’ve attended conferences, even if I’ve been helping out administratively, I’ve always been involved – always gone to the presentations, always been able to attend receptions, to drink the wine, and to chat about interesting things with my companions. But on Monday night, I went to a book launch, which was attached to a conference, and I went in my capacity as a bookseller.
In many ways, it was exciting to be able to have a defined role: we arrived, set up our stall, and within half an hour, we had sold out. I chatted with my colleague, L, and a little with some of the guests. All in all, we had a good time.
And yet, I wasn’t there in the way I am used to. I couldn’t chat with people in the same way, even when I expressed an interest in the book, and the fact that I had read it, I could see that I wasn’t really there. The guests wanted to speak to their colleagues, but not so much to me (at least whilst I wasn’t selling to them). For them, I was there to serve a purpose, not to join in. And I guess I wasn’t really involved, and that, in some sense, to try to be was an imposition on my part. But it still felt strange.
Strangely, I don’t feel out of place in the shop. I am able to use my research skills, I’m able to be astonishingly creative,* I’m able to talk to people about the things I’m interested in and have abstract, enlightening conversations with my colleagues and the customers. My boss, K, has an English degree, and we talk books a lot. My other colleagues, L and J, are studying for degrees, on history/material culture and law respectively, and we chat about everything under the sun.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that it is interesting that certain environments are bound much more by the definition of roles. Whilst I don’t think I’ve been impolite, I know I’m guilty of the crime of failing to imagine the lives and backgrounds of people I’ve met, and judge them merely based on what I see them doing now.
I suppose this blog post has turned into a plea. No matter your own position, whether you have the job of your dreams or not, please make sure that you take the opportunity for discussion with the people who offer you a service. From the VC to the booksellers to the cleaners, we are also the facilitators of education, and we are also creative, and thoughtful, and smart. So acknowledge the Ops guys: they’re the glue that stops it all falling apart.
*I spent quite a lot of Thursday designing invitations, decorations, a treasure hunt, and a Cheshire Cat smile.