For some people their cup is half empty, for others its half full but for me its gushing over the edges and threatening to sink the ship.
(Ian Wilson 2009)
Throughout my career I have had periods of intense pressure, or mind numbing boredom and every step in between. There is one fact though that keeps cropping up, each period of activity is more frenetic and consuming than any previous. It would be great if this was a simple grass is greener kind of experience but I’m convinced its not. No, instead I think it’s the burgeoning expectations and reality of responsibility that drives us to push harder, work longer and strive to do better. Without that drive we languish and flounder or to put it another way we find ourselves in a comfy slippers and pipe situation. Some people love being there, even I did for several years. But it’s a place of resentment and bitterness, anyone or any change that may threaten our comfy situation will drive us further into a downward spiral of growing defensiveness and paranoia.
This feeling is reinforced for me by a previous and still relatively recent period of malaise. About two years ago I was pretty much rock bottom with nothing to do and waiting to be made redundant in a company that was to all intents and purposes driving itself nowhere. I’m sure many of you have experienced a similar situation at one time or another and would never want to be there again.
Today I have a new life, it took almost a year to regain my confidence and drive, but in the following year I have achieved more than I thought possible and am very happy with where things are going. The downside is that going from a pure techie role to a consultant and finally to an essentially non-technical team management role in the space of a year can leave one a tiny bit breathless. As a techie you leave your work at work, computers don’t have feelings and don’t need anything other than power and cool air. As a consultant there are now customers (all be it internal ones in this case) who have no regard for the time, they just need whatever it is they need and yesterday. With a team to look after the focus shifts completely, now you have even more customers, a team of people to look after and “business demands” to deal with.
“Ah” I hear you say, “sounds like your cup is half empty there”.
Well, no it isn’t. I haven’t been this happy in a long time. Even the long hours, overflowing inbox, constant barrage of customer requests/demands and imperative reports and analytics for the business can’t do anything to dampen my drive. There’s this nagging suspicion that I can still do more or I can still do what I am better.
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on going.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
(From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. Published by Doubleday.)
Unlike the professor in the fantastic quote above, I was starting on empty. From the point where I began picking myself up I was starting a journey where everything that had been familiar and dear to me before was now worthless and without meaning. The things required of me were completely new and it was the very last time I would be anywhere near a comfort zone. The pipe and slippers were in the bin, hopefully for good.
So what was it that made me drag myself from the pit of oblivion? That’s simple, change, support and opportunity. Not just any change but a change that put me in a position where I was supported and encouraged to push myself. In all honesty once I had regained my confidence and self belief there was so much momentum built up it was going to be very hard to stop. It took a couple of very special people to get me there from such a low starting point though. For the sake of preserving their anonymity lets call them Adrian and Mick. These two guys were an inspiration and their support getting me going was crucial. Hopefully I can eventually repay them by following their example and helping someone else out of a similar hole. After all it’s not what happens to us that defines our place in the world but what we do.