Today I came to a realisation that can be summed up in a sentence that sounds fairly simple, but has taken me an embarrassingly long time to grasp:
Just because you’re good at something, that doesn’t mean you have to do it.
As regular readers of this blog will know, 2017 has been an odd and challenging year chez scar. I was ploughing along, running several businesses, in the beginning stages of setting up another, writing a book, singing, creating music, volunteering at Childline for one night shift per week, and trying to work out how to fit my academic research goals into my schedule.
Then in March I got ill. Actually I’d been ill for years, but it culminated in one of my internal organs essentially melting inside me (yes, really), which led to me being laid up for months, alternating my time between lying in bed watching Netflix, lying in the bath because it was the only thing that eased the pain, or giving in and just curling up pathetically on the bathroom floor, spending way more time than I’d like getting intimately acquainted with the toilet.
The illness necessitated a few changes, not least of which was a severe slowing down. I dropped all work that involved going outside, and reduced my hours of running my freelance agency to the bare minimum. I’d get up and work for a couple of hours per day, then head back to bed feeling like I’d run a marathon. This continued for eight months, until the end of October when I finally got the surgery I’d urgently needed all year (the state of the NHS is a topic for another post…), and over the past couple of weeks I have gradually begun to emerge as a more human version of myself again.
One main change is that I’m off the cocktail of drugs I’d been on, so I have more brain power available since it’s no longer being dulled by medication. And now that’s the case, I can do things like make Big Decisions and write blog posts that hopefully make some kind of sense.
Like this one, for example, where I’m about to detail a number of changes.
1. No more investigation
It’s not just illness that has affected this year’s trajectory. Recently the government has brought in some legislation that makes it very hard for small companies and sole practitioners to conduct digital forensic investigations. It’s a shame because the theory comes from the right kind of place – we do need more standardisation in the industry, and it is important to make sure people who present evidence in court actually know what they’re doing.
Unfortunately the government has decided to solve this problem using ISO 17025, a standard of accreditation generally applied to forensic science. But digital forensics is a different beast from bioforensics, and many members of the community haven’t welcomed the change.
The most heavily affected are those of us working as sole practitioners or in small companies. Why? Money.
A survey by Peter Sommer demonstrated the level of spend necessary to keep things going in digital forensics these days. You can find my full article about it here, but the gist of it is that you’re looking at a minimum of £50k to get the initial accreditation, and probably about £20k per year going forward if you want to keep it. That’s just not the kind of money you have hanging around spare if you’re a small business. Statista reports that the average profit for a UK SME with 1-9 employees was £13k in 2016. Taking that up a notch to 10-49 employees, and you’re still only looking at a profit of £51k in 2016. And things look even worse if you’re a sole practitioner, with an average profit in 2016 of just £7k. In general, profit is going down for businesses too:
All of these are things you have to take into consideration when you’re running a small business.
Many of my friends who were working for themselves or for small companies have decided to either find places at larger corporations, or move into law enforcement. Neither of those appeal to me, for various reasons, the main ones being that I like working from home and hate travelling during rush hour.
So no more investigation for me. I was quite surprised to discover that I wasn’t actually disappointed about this. I started investigating for a couple of reasons: (1) I care about child protection and wanted to be able to make a difference; and (2) it sounds pretty badass. I am now quite tired of badassery and just want to settle down and live a nice quiet life, and I satisfy my child protection desires through volunteering and the occasional consultancy gig.
2. Writing more books
In January of this year, I landed a book deal completely unexpectedly. I would never have guessed that my first book would be a digital forensics textbook, and yet here it is.
There’s another one on the way in 2018, and I’m also working on a third book that isn’t about digital forensics.
3. Picking up research projects
Pretty much where I left off, hopefully. I’ve been part of the Pilgrimage Project for ten years now, and although we’ve disbanded at this point and are all working on our own things, there are offshoots that could be explored and I’d like to do that.
I have ideas and papers and datasets coming out my ears, and it’s all been shoved on a shelf for years (literally, in most cases) while I built Bohemiacademia up to a level where I’m doing just the right amount of work. I can now do a minimal amount of work each day, leave the rest to the freelancers, and earn enough to live comfortably. This has been the dream for years and I’m happy to have finally made it happen.
Of course, me being me, I don’t want to spend the rest of the time lying around binge watching Netflix (much as I’ve enjoyed doing lots of that this year); instead, I want to use this time to do more academic research. The focus will be on psychology and history of religion, I should think, with a bit of philosophy of mind thrown in. But we’ll see where things take me.
…and so, a new identity (kinda)
I was going to wait until the new year to roll this out – new year, new beginnings and all that – but recovery is going better than expected (yay!) and I might as well get my ideas organised and start sorting things out now.
So with that in mind, I updated my social media bios (because we all know that’s how you define a person these days) and came up with this: And I read it back, and looked at it for a while, and I realised that I think this is the first time in my life I’ve had a bio that genuinely reflects who I am. Not what I do all day at work, not some badass version of myself who only really lives on the internet, but actual me.
That made me very happy.
It also made me think about why it is that it’s only as I’m approaching thirty that I’ve been able to do this.
Briefly, my career trajectory has gone like this:
- A bunch of part-time jobs while I was at school.
- Falling into a job in advertising (an industry I despise) at 18 and accidentally staying there waayyyy longer than I’d anticipated.
- Leaving and deciding to do something badass with my life, so becoming a digital forensic investigator.
- Finally ditching everything superfluous and stripping things back to the three elements that have always run alongside my other jobs, because I loved them all too much to drop them: academic writing, creative writing, and freelancing.
I don’t know why it took me so long to do this. Perhaps I had to go through the churn of all the other jobs before this would make sense as a life path. A large part of it was that I was pretty good at most of the things I did, so it felt silly to drop them. When I left advertising and was desperate for money, not yet making it as an investigator, it seemed ridiculous to turn down advertising and PR-related work, so I didn’t. But I should have. When I decided to focus purely on digital forensics rather than offline investigation, it seemed absurd to turn away money and send people who wanted more traditional style investigations to other contacts. But I should have.
Just because you’re good at something, that doesn’t mean you have to do it.
As 2017 draws to a close, it strikes me that my life goals have always been fairly consistent: live alone, read and write books, do research into some area of psychology, and work for myself from home. Along the way I got distracted by the big paycheques of the advertising world and the exciting badassery of counter terror and child protection investigation, but these things were always waiting for me in the background. And it took several months of being forced to do nothing for me to work out what I actually missed, and what I’d choose to do if I could.
Now I can. So I will.