Waiting for a Whirlwind

Boring, bored or both, I wonder? I’ve really had the urge to write something recently. I’m not sure why. It might be to get something off my chest, or maybe because there are things on my mind that I don’t know how to articulate conversationally.

But, conversely, I don’t know if I have got anything even remotely engaging to say… which, for all of us really, makes the next few minutes margining on the pointless! ?

I’d hardly call myself a blogger, let alone one with an audience, so I’d normally tend to stick my tongue in my cheek, write something risible, and hope that any friends that read it at least broach a smile.

But sorry. I decided that, to scratch whatever itch this is, I’d disturb the earth around the things I’ve been focussed on, working on, enjoying… A wailing, introspective, “Dear Diary” that asks ‘what the hell am I doing?’ because I’m not sure I’m sure, and that might mean I’m in a rut.

Poking the Bear

When I say I might be bored of late, I shouldn’t downplay the holiday-of-a-lifetime I had in New Zealand in April. It had been a long time since I’d properly disconnected and I was keen to use that time to resolve a few things in my mind. I feel like I made progress; like I know a little better where I want to be, maybe even who I want to be.

Frankly it felt like the right time to poke that bear. I’ve worked in the same place for nine years; grown up there (or maybe not). Having a clear challenge in front of me has always seemed really important, and I feel like, for all those years, I have known what that challenge is. It has been a project, a flat, a management role, a race time… Many things.

2018 wasn’t so clear for me. It posed a great big “what’s next”. So does that explain the frustration that there just seems to be nothing grand to say?

The Quiet Grind

What have I been doing? When someone asks me this, I’m prone to say “not much”, or “same old same old”, because I think the sense that I’m just ‘cracking on’ might be as boring to hear as it is for me to say. If I thought about it though, I have been doing… stuff.

I’ve been running; somewhat consistently. This is bigger than it sounds because I’m on year five of having long-term injuries. (Beaten two bouts of plantar fasciitis. Now, just one crappy knee injury to go.) A physio has helped me manage my knee and I’ve done 750 miles in 9 months which, although slower than I’ve ever been, is already more than I’ve done in any year other than 2013.

What I’ve really learned is that I need to be thankful to be able to go out and run at all. Things get shitty when I don’t and, if I’m objective, the benefits of running routinely beat the feeling of earning one fast time every two-to-three years.

I used to do the exact same 5k loop near my home, just over and over. I only became a better, more confident runner when I broke out of that rut. Now I’ve got the courage to ‘just go’ running, wherever I happen to be, (unless it’s the South Bank, I mean jeez what do joggers along there hope to achieve? You might as well be walking like the rest of us).

I’ve run in Berlin, Sydney & Wellington over the last year or so, expectedly getting lost each time. That’s the kind of freedom that I love about being able to be out on my feet. The kind that leads you to a dark forest on a sheer hillside, in a city you just arrived in, worried about the fading light… Nice view though.

Looking South over Wellington Bay.
Looking South over Wellington Bay.

At work, I’ve had three invites to speak publicly, of which I was able to take up one. I think this matters to me because I want to be able to feel comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. It’s a big challenge when I think back to my anxiety-filled teens and early twenties, and one that I’m ready to face.

I’ve also realised: the mission isn’t finished. I undertook a project in 2016/17 which was designed to transform and underpin e-commerce in the business for the long term; a “digital transformation”, as horrible as that phrase is.
It was technology project, yes, but also a people project. It’s probably only this year that I’ve realised that the work isn’t likely to be done for a little while yet.

It has been a rough ride so far. There’s a weight of responsibility that I (willingly) bear, and it’s fair to say that people can resent change.

However, life has felt really unbalanced at times, largely because ‘just working harder’ is easier than working smart when it comes to riding a rough wave and making change stick.

I’ve taken some comfort in stepping outside the bubble. I heard someone speak the other day on being a change agent in large businesses. She was a bit of a bulldog about it, which was admirable, and she pointed out that acceptance takes time.

I’ve also been reading a book called The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. It’s one of the most punchy and engaging books I’ve read. It tries to understand what makes groups of people successful together.

One of those things is unified vision and purpose. Coyle tells the story of Johnson & Johnson, who were the subjects of a public health crisis surrounding their product, Tylenol, in the 1980s. J&J ignored the advice of the FDA and FBI, and instead made each and every critical decision during the crisis using their ‘credo’ – a single page document which had existed since the ’40s describing the company’s vision and values.

Rather than suffering an unmitigated disaster, this company of thousands of people came to the same decisions as a hive mind. In a time of crisis, they survived and recovered.

The hearts and minds of the people who were making the decisions in a whole series of disparate companies… they all knew what to do.

Watching my immediate team begin to mature and adapt, and hearing the outside input, I continue to believe we’re doing the right thing. I guess I have to!

I think I’ve nurtured some friendships, though maybe not as much as I would have liked. There are so few times where I feel like I really click with people, so I tend to over-egg things when I do find somebody I feel I can talk to (creepy over-communicator, anyone?!).

One thing I realised from this is that maybe I hadn’t given enough importance to personal relationships over the last few years. I thought that maybe my emotional approach to relationships had changed to a point where I was deliberately distant; perhaps some function of toxic masculinity or some other complex psychological puzzle that I’m not going to pretend I have the cornerpiece to.

So, even though I feel like I have a long way to go, I’m really grateful to people who have allowed me to chat / hang out, and reciprocated for me when trying to be more open. It’s worth more than you know and I hope our friendships continue to grow stronger.

A few other things may be worth mentioning about 2018. I’m saving money with no real goal in mind. My mortgage fix ends in 2019 so I feel like I’ll have an opportunity then to do something exciting, hence saving.

I’m trying to read more books, not least because my bookshelf is creaking with titles I promise myself I will read shortly.

I’ve been on a few dates (I find this so much easier than doing anything in a group or a crowd, by the way!). One of these was with an archivist –an enthusiastic one at that – which became this fascinating conversation about why an individual or an organisation would/should archive their activities. There is so much more to it than you would think!

Not entirely as a result of that conversation, I am trying to move all my digital life into The Cloud. It’s an exercise in trying to get rid of most physical trinkets, preserving them as photographs, and consolidating a digital history of life somewhere safe, so I can enjoy the posterity later on.

In the process of doing this I’ve found myself revisiting the past. Thousands of documents, photographs, audio recordings and writings that remind me of who I was. The conclusion normally being: “you were an unrefined, embarrassing, wreck of a teenager”.

Organising photographs especially brings back memories. I was surprised, actually, that this wasn’t tinged with sadness or saudade. If there was an overriding feeling it was that I wish I wasn’t enjoying life so much at the time when digital cameras were so shite.

We’re in an unprecedented time where digital photos, good and bad, flood our lives. Imagine how we will feel looking back at them in fifty years’ time? I have a decent digital camera. I am not a photography idiot (quick plug for my Flickr account), but nor am I an enthusiast; I simply like the idea of photos for posterity and ‘archival’.

On that premise, I regularly think that I should be taking more photographs, particularly of seemingly-mundane things. There is a magic to looking back at a picture of a place in its seemingly-boring, everyday form, but knowing it has now evolved, changed, moved on. There’s an allegory with this post here… somewhere.

Hoe Valley in Woking 2010
I took this photo of an area called Hoe Valley in Woking, just as they were clearing the site for new buildings. It’s taken on 35mm, and I have no idea if this is a technically-good or bad photo. I just know that if I stood in the same spot now, I’d see something very different.

Waiting for a Whirlwind

Maybe I’ve done more than I thought, and maybe those things have challenged me, but what I haven’t had is some leading light, or a long term goal to focus on. What’s more, my circumstances overall haven’t really changed.

I lament sometimes that change happens slowly for me; that life rarely brings a whirlwind. I’m torn as to whether I want one. Thinking back to those photos, they offer something more than the nice memories: When I look back, I realise that some of the best things that have happened to me have been just after the storms. I guess you can’t cause that whirlwind, but you can weather it and let your senses guide you away from the fear, into the feeling of survival and growing that comes afterwards.

My song today by Maribou State captured me because – aside from the beautiful textures that complement Holly Walker’s airy voice in such a refreshing way – it’s about someone frustrated at not having the mindset to live in the moment.

They are looking with jealousy at people who seize the day and find that life washes off them when things go bad. I guess it resonates because I feel like the ‘slow burner’ all the time; never just diving in and risking the pain. I challenge myself a lot on this, but maybe only in my head and not in practice. “Some things never change”. Then again, maybe they could?