It happens to the best of us I suppose. You reach a point where if you allow yourself to stop, take a breath and reflect on the situation you’re in, you immediately feel like climbing under a table, breathing into a brown paper bag and perhaps, should the urge take you, quietly vomiting into a shoe. This is why you shouldn’t stop of course. Just keep on going. Just relentlessly chug away like a demented robot who has overridden its self-destruct button happily busying itself unaware of course that it’s about to burn out.
But, because I am not a robot and neither are you, we all occasionally stop and that can often seem like a huge mistake.
Today, I read a reference someone had written for me, about me, for when I applied for my current job. Now, before you start to worry, I don’t make it a habit of reading my own references. I don’t take them home on a Friday, pour myself a glass of wine and regale myself with how great I am. (That would be madness and besides, I have a blog for that.) No, I had in fact been asked to provide a reference for an old colleague and I thought before I start, I should read a successful one (well I got the job didn’t I?) to look at the basic structure of the thing and steal some sentence openers otherwise I was in danger of starting every line with the words ‘And another thing they do well…’
As I read my own reference two feelings began to emerge. One was that I appeared to be the most amazing Deputy the world has ever seen and the second was that I sort of remembered who this person was but felt it certainly wasn’t the current ‘me’.
Again, don’t worry: I know I wasn’t the most amazing Deputy in the world. But I was pretty good. And reading back this distillation of my four year stint I kept thinking: ‘Wow, I did a lot and I did it well.’ Then, thinking about my current job and everything that I’m in the middle of doing I couldn’t help but think: ‘What the hell happened to me?’
How did this cool, calm and collected leader who went from one success to another turn into this husk who seems to be staggering to life raft to life raft narrowly missing open mouthed sharks, sea snakes and floating pieces of excrement?
I do not know.
Then I read my reference again. And as a little treat, I read it again. Then it began to dawn on me. Reading back all of my achievements I began thinking back to those times and how I felt when I was actually there doing it. In retrospect, it all went so smoothly; at the time though, well that’s a different tale.
I remembered all the frustrations and challenges that were part and parcel of success. I remembered the feelings of self doubt on the journeys home, the conversations with the Head saying: ‘What the hell are we doing? Nothing’s working, I mean nothing we are doing is bloody working!’ Because when you’re in the thick of it the dream you had that started the ball rolling, always seems far, far away. Like when you dream you’re running a race and the closer you get to the finishing line the further away it gets. (I’ve never actually had that dream, but I’m sure more sporty people have and the metaphor sort of fits so I’ll ‘run’ with it.)
When you look back though, the success that you achieved for your school tower over the stress and torment it took to get there. So, I realised I hadn’t changed, I hadn’t gone from hero to zero: I’m just doing what everyone else is doing: fighting on. And sometimes it is a fight and sometimes it feels like you’re losing. But we all know it’s going to be worth it – whatever it is you’re personally fighting for, whatever it is that is keeping you from sleeping, you know that your hard work, determination and belief will win in the end. And when the next person writes your reference they’ll focus on everything you achieved and the way in which you refused to be ground down when it got tough. Hopefully they’ll miss out the bit where they found you underneath the table being sick into a shoe and jabbering on about sea snakes otherwise you’re really stuffed.
So keep going and when you do stop and it feels like it’s all too much, just remember: this ain’t the first time and if you keep doing your job, it won’t be the last.