In amongst all the genuine anxiety, fear and deep trepidation that beset these islands last March was hidden one other nagging question. A question that was much less important, even peripheral perhaps, but a question we would still have to answer.
A precious gift
You see, for many people, and I include myself in this group, we were being given the one gift that we had constantly hankered after. In those sepia-tinted far-off days of BC – Before Coronavirus – whenever a group gathered together (and social distancing was just a habit we employed to keep away from some of the odious people we occasionally encountered) the talk would always turn to the rarity of this gift.
“Have you written any more of your book yet?”
“Oh, God, if only. I can’t get the time to think, never mind write.”
And in that last sentence is buried that precious gift that always sat just out of our reach: time.
And the fear? Let’s be honest, one of the best procrastinatory (is that a word? It is now) devices we had at our disposal was the excuse that there just weren’t enough hours in the day. What also dazzled us in those distant March months was the attractive mirage of a lengthening day, as dark winter evenings reluctantly gave way to the life-affirming promise of Spring sunshine.
From not enough time to too much time
Then, suddenly, we found ourselves wrestling with a new enemy. An enemy so devilish that we didn’t recognise it when it first appeared: too much time.
We threw up desperate defences, hurling out a blizzard of commitments that were confidently generated by so many – including myself. Now’s the time to start that novel. Great, I can now get busy with the kitchen redecoration. No excuses, it’s time to knuckle down and become so fluent in Spanish, people will be asking which Iberian region I’m from.
Promises, promises, promises….
So, what happened? The novel still resides in my head, the kitchen’s unique colour scheme still needs explaining away to visitors and my mastery of Spanish remains at the same level that earned me a depressingly inferior grade in my GCSEs.
How did that happen? Where did all that time go? Did I sleepwalk through those summer months?
Time can be so deceptive
That’s why the enemy of too much time is so sly. When free time unfurls before us with the deceptive perspective of an infinity pool, we find ourselves easily prey to its seductive weaponry.
Why don’t we know how to deal with too much time? Easy, because we have never faced it before.
Stressed? Yes, I’ve had to deal with a ton of that, so I can tick that one off.
Overwork? Tell me about it! I’ve been wrestling with that demon for years now.
Fatigue? Hmmm, more difficult, but when the moment to perform is there, I always pull the ‘energy rabbit’ out of the hat. But bags of time? Err…
Now, as the light of each day is squeezed by the boa constrictor grip of a late Autumn, we face a reckoning. Come to the front of the class, Michael, and show teacher just what you have been doing all morning.
And guilt-crushed Michael walks with faltering steps to the front of the classroom, clutching a book whose pages are as virginal and unsullied as they were when class started.
Or were they? Have we fallen into a trap here? What exactly is the measure of worth that we hold up against the 6 or so months we have just come through? Is dazzling achievement the only quantification I must use to assess how wisely I have spent my time? Am I not missing something incredibly important?
Small but important beginnings
I believe I am. During the lockdown, I have done some things that, in the course of the great cosmic universe we inhabit, are so small that they will not have registered with anyone else but me.
Can I start with a silly one? I now use a non-disposable razor for shaving. OK, I grant you, it is not going to get Greenpeace beating down my bathroom door, but it is one small gesture. Why? Because I want to use less plastic. I have also moved away from deodorants sold in non-sustainable packaging.
Did the tectonic plates beneath your feet move in a terrifying way as you read that? Of course not. It was just, again, a small gesture that meant that there would be a few less items coursing upon the river of plastic that our modern world has created
Here’s another: I have now mastered three different cloud-based video communication apps – Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Whereby – to such an extent that I can now confidently open them up without the need for cardiac resuscitation equipment placed just out of camera.
As a facilitator, I have happily come to the view that – in all honesty – there are other ways that people can enjoy the learning process. And who’s to say that there aren’t those who have learned to love it more than the usual conventional methods? It’s a nice thought that I am now a more skilled facilitator than I was last February because I can do my job in a more blended and complex way.
And that brings me to my last achievement. Let me tell you about it.
A chance conversation in an airport lounge
During the quiet moments that have been so much more plentiful during the Covid crisis, I recalled a conversation from last year with someone in an airport lounge that suddenly made me – literally – sit up and think.
After we had both bemoaned the fact that our UK-bound plane was getting later and later, we fell into a conversation about her job role. She then asked what I did, and I talked through my Learning and Development work.
“People who work in large organisations are so lucky. All that development stuff is there for them on tap.”
“Well, there are open courses, “ I replied. “They’re always available to you.”
“Not when you don’t know when you’ll be called away. And small companies don’t think about development the same way that large companies do.”
So, let’s jump back to me at my desk, bolt upright in my chair, obsessed with the Damascene realisation: ‘this is my one shot.’
We were well into the lockdown and, in the summer, I got to work putting together an online training website which would make access to knowledge available to everyone, including that inspiring (if only she knew it) woman in the airport lounge.
A website that isn’t just slides and a ‘face-to-camera’, set in some sterile office that bears no resemblance to the happily disarrayed aspect of most working environments, but more interactive, more fun and plain-looking, balding old me doing my bit to camera.
And now, here you are reading this on my new creation: mhconsult.online. My first course, about Impostor Syndrome is already available – and a second course about Assertiveness is well on its way to completion. And believe me: I am excited about the courses that will follow those!
So, a smoother shave, a more accomplished facilitator, and the proud owner of a new online course website.
And my novel?
Well, there’s always the Christmas holiday.