Tag Archives: work

Pressure

There are times in each of our lives where we are literally moving/ stumbling/ lurching from one moment to the next without space or pause to catch our breath. It is with some great relief that I sit here now on the other side of one of these such episodes. I am currently basking in the lightness of my shoulders which had been tightly straining towards my ears, and the ease with which sleep now comes.

Within in a very small window of time my dear husband and I moved house, he broke his arm the very week before the move, I started a new job and I had a conference to prepare two talks for. I began walking into the next thing that was immediately in front of me. Nothing else could possibly fit.

It was during this incredible period of flux that for the first time in my life I arrived at a department presentation run through for the conference entirely unprepared. That week I had kicked goals in my new job and moved house… and had done so at the expense of my papers. As I listened to other people share their work, the lack in mine became amplified. As I sped through my slides and talked about what I was going to say, I was struck by how much work actually sat before me. I sat through the feedback feeling despondent and when my boss asked me to stop by her office as I was racing out the door to pick my parents up from the airport… Well I had to stop, message my folks and let them know I’d be late and sit with my boss. There is only space for this thing that is in front of me right now.

The talks became my thing in front of me for the next 7 days. Over Easter I sat from breakfast to bedtime in front of my computer re- running analyses on my data to meet the aforementioned feedback and crafting my slides. Then I flew to where the conference was and skyped my boss, this time only details needed modifying. A colleague poured over them both with me and our Head of Department as well because I forgot to mention, this forum is the most important one in my field and it’s the first time my data is being presented. For me professionally, it’s kind of a big deal.

Three sleepless nights in Adelaide. Away from my husband who is in our new home, surrounded by boxes with his broken arm. All consumed by these talks. They’re ready but I still sit in the hotel bar and order dessert for dinner with a side of wine while I continue to tweak and fuss. I’m ready, it’s the eleventh hour but I am bloody ready. Sleep still doesn’t come.

Because sleep was an elusive beast I took my sweet time getting ready the day of my talks. I dressed in yellow because, well because yellow! I strolled along slowly looking for a good place to get coffee and I rolled into the conference feeling a reasonable amount of decent. My talks went well and were well received. I’m chuffed because I got to crack an opening joke that scored a laugh when the tech failed at the start of my first of two consecutive presentations.

Suddenly there is space to gather myself, check that I  am still as I should be, all my parts are here. I can breath and make space for others again. My world has opened up once more. I am more, not less, engaged in my work. I am eager to claim the rain-checks I’ve collected with our families and friends and see my sisters squishy bambinos because they grow so darn fast!

I think periods such as this, where you can only focus on this most pressing thing right here in front of you, are important. For me at least, there was great benefit in being capable of only dealing with the next most pressing thing because that pressure meant that I was immersed in what I was doing, whether that was moving house or sitting in Emergency (twice) with my dear husband, figuring out my new role at work and how to juggle it with my existing one, or the brief moments I was able to take with friends, or my presentations. I was entirely immersed in that moment. That immersion created a depth and state of flow unlike my common every day experience. This period of respite from that is full of inspiration drawn from that immersion and a heightened level of appreciation for the people I love.

Pressure, not a bad thing but definitely not a sustainable thing. I am gratefully enriched by the flux of recent weeks and ready for some quiet steady time to make the most of what I have managed to take away from it.

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” ~ Peter Marshall

Don’t press delete

When we try to dig into the deeper parts of ourselves to lighten our being it is easy to go along the path of least resistance. Recently I have been on a journey to discover the root cause of apathy and a lack of drive. I had thought that it might have something to do with feeling unworthy of my work role, feeling as though somehow I am not good enough. Work takes up so much time in my life that it is easy to view it as being at the core of all that feels uncomfortable. It is not.

There is a space in each of us, filled with moments from our birth until now. Filled with experiences, good and bad whose echoes linger. We have fears that we try to quiet, hiding them even from ourselves. So when something needs clearing from our psyche, it will likely manifest itself in the place we consciously have to stretch the most. Where we spend the most time. Where we have the greatest responsibility. For me that is work. It was a natural process for me to think that was where the problem lie.

I would have been satisfied with that discovery and set-to on a pointless journey of trying to ramp up my enthusiasm for my job. Except that repeatedly I catch myself buzzing with excitement when I talk about my project and the work that I am doing. I grin like an idiot when someone asks me a question about work and I have to invite them to signal when they’ve had enough because I can go on and on and on! And self-efficacy? In the throws of responding to any work related demand there is only joy, curiosity and complete focus. And when I think of my perfect job, where I can make a difference in peoples lives, have a broad spectrum of tasks from hands on with participants to writing and analysis, travel and flexible work hours- this is it! I couldn’t see where I should start my repairs. I can see now that it is not my work, or my ability to carry it out, or the space in which I undertake it that is causing my unease. It has nothing to do with my work. My work is a blessing, it is a vehicle for me to express my soul’s purpose. My discontent runs much deeper than that.

My growing levels of stress and subsequent poor health is caused by a more permanent, unavoidable terror so I just stick my head in the sand and break into a cold sweat every night pretending like I’m not scared out of my mind. It was easy for me to claim that the thing I needed to express was a feeling of inadequacy at work. Simple. The ramifications of that are that you simply work harder and problem solved. No. That was too convenient. And this is difficult for me to write.

When I realised I was wrong about where I am getting stuck I wanted to delete my last post. It simply is not true, work has nothing to do with it. It is beyond simplistic to even have thought so. It is embarrassing and makes me wrinkle my nose at myself, how could I have let myself be drawn along that line of thinking? Well, I happen to know that it was because I was highly stressed and anxious recently about doing a presentation. I got stuck on it like I have never been stuck before, but that doesn’t mean that I am not good enough for this role, it means that was a difficult presentation and nothing more. It took a great deal of reflection on being vulnerable, being okay with sharing a journey honestly that stopped me from pressing that oh-so-easy to select button. After all, I did think that it was as simple as a crisis of confidence. I hoped, because I know what to do with that. But pressing delete was only going to deny that part of this journey.

Thinking, even for a short while, that work was the sole cause of my growing angst was important. I was able to explore what work means to me, what I want from it, how it contributes to my life in good ways and bad. It was this process of trying different ideas on for size, seeing what felt right, what really rang true, that I was able to figure out that I was sniffing at the wrong tree. Well, maybe I was just exploring at a too superficial level more so that at the wrong tree. I have been conflicted about work because it takes up so much of my life. A life that is so full of promise and adventure. There is much to experience and to learn here and I can’t help but feel that we have done ourselves a disservice by designing our culture around full time (and then some) employment. By celebrating over-workers and not having enough time for ourselves or our loved ones, the days merge together, seasons speed by and the years pass without notice. Suddenly we have spent a lifetime in busyness because that is what is expected and what do we have to show for it?

What scares me most is something we just don’t like to talk about. It stops me in my tracks and makes me question everything we value in our society. It leads me to think that we shouldn’t be spending our lives engaged in the slavery of full time employ. It causes me to wonder how our moral compass can be so offline in the face of it. Our culture avoids it. Popular media devalues it constantly. It makes people uncomfortable. We focus on accruing shiny objects and filling our lives with the newest gadgets, faster cars and bigger homes so that we don’t have to face it. The end of this life. Our mortality. The fragility of life is what most frightens me. And our lack of care for each other and our natural world compound it.

The truth that I must speak to myself. The empath I wrote about was totally right. There is a truth I must speak to myself and it has everything to do with the only thing that has ever really worried me. The truth is not that I have this fear. I have always known it. The truth is that I know how to alleviate it.

 

“Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it’s dark.” ~Zen Proverb

Crisis of confidence

I normally prefer to write these sorts of things when they are not so close. When they are not pressing in on you, the walls shrinking, deadlines breathing down your neck, a mountain of responsibility weighing you down and the expectation that you’ve got this and are performing brilliantly crushing your soul…

In an earlier post I briefly touched on my motivation and drive for work being AWOL and my working to find it again. Well I adopted more of a “fake it ’til you make it” sort of approach to try and coax it back. I think it is starting to work. But the early glimmers have been fitful and fleeting at best.

There are times I strut my stuff confidently, arms swinging, bouncy gait, head held high “I have got this”. However, recently I have been red faced, avoidant, my memory has been shocking and the pressure of deadlines almost undoes me. Feedback framed in purely negative terms makes me want to throw myself under a bus, or at least my thesis and all the many hours of work that have gone into the last three years of my life in any case.

Over reactive, ill equipped to make informative and clear responses, highly stressed, tired and flustered. I wouldn’t see a helpful sign if it bit me on the bum. The truth is that sometimes, months on decisions don’t always make sense in the current context and it is my role to clearly present an argument in support of those decisions that are unable to change. It is also my responsibility to request help where I need it. I have been struggling with this a great deal in recent months. I am holding myself to an impossible standard and the ensuing waste of energy limits my capacity to do awesomely at a manageable level. But there is a reason that people start small. I am small in my role. A little fish. I am learning. I am also leading the way. I have responsibility. I can do as much or as little as I want with all of it. I can walk away. I can commit the rest of my working life. It is all on me.

I need to find the way out of feeling like a stupid squishy mess. I am not an idiot, I have a very capable brain on my shoulders. How to take a breath, calm and relax? Let life flow without the harsh expectations. Simply be satisfied that I applied my skill set to the best of my ability. That is my current challenge. I love what I do and I am good at it. But right now I don’t feel good at it and I am taking things that are not personal and making them mean something about me and how good I am at my job. I know that as soon as I lift off the self imposed pressure I will perform at the level I want. In the meantime you will find me quietly reading a Toltec wisdom book and chipping away slowly at some deadlines in my pyjamas.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” ~Attributed to Hanoch McCarty