WOW, I did not see that coming… how “restructure” makes you feel at 46…it might surprise you…
There are events in your life that make your heart pound, make the adrenaline course through your veins to a point where thinking, for a few moments at least, becomes almost impossible. These feelings are perfectly natural, in fact they are essential . The reaction to fight, flight or freeze is your brains way of very quickly preparing you and subsequently making potentially life saving actions on your behalf. My understanding of the chemistry of these processes is limited, but are explained clearly in Steve Peter’s book, the Chimp Paradox (a book I have recommended many times, especially to people who live with a partner!!) but they were the feelings I was having for the first time, in a long time, a few weeks ago.
As a child and a young adult these episodes are fairly regular, the first time you fell off your bike, asked a partner out, tried to get served in the pub, got “offered outside” the pub, and may even include your first brush with the law. As you grow, not only do your circumstances change, these events becoming less regular, but I think you also accumulate an ever growing bank of experience on which your mind can draw before it decides to take those preparatory steps of raising your heart rate; adding in some adrenaline, dilating your pupils, pushing more oxygenated blood to the muscles and readying you to swing or run (fight or flight) Too much of this preparation can cause freeze which, in most cases, is the least best of the 3 options.
I have had my fair share of these moments, and I would like to think that whilst I’m definitely not Bear or Backshall (much to my wife’s disappointment) I am slightly better prepared than some. I have not served in the forces, or the essential services but I have raced a motorbike around Oliver’s Mount ( you tube helps to understand this reference-Olivers Mount racing lap) and that in itself contained about 3 of these moments PER LAP!!!!!
I have not had one of these experiences for many years. Work has gone well, home life has been settled and I don’t often get ” offered out” any more, I don’t actually go to the pub that often. The last true moment of panic came when I was told that our 4 year old daughter had pneumonia. My wife and I moved swiftly, simultaneously, into fight mode. We did what was required, and we are eternally grateful for the positive outcome. She is now 15.
As I arrived at the office for the bi monthly managers meeting I was greeted by my colleague who, despite me telling a particularly funny anecdote about my new coat (usually my little stories at least get a smile or a small laugh), stayed straight faced as he invited me into his office. Whilst this invite was a fairly regular occurrence, having the HR manager already sat there to greet me, was not!!……and so the physical and mental process of fight, flight or freeze, so long lost in my memory, began.
The heart picked up the pace, the mind started to race, the adrenal glands fired up the furnace and here we were back on a race circuit, flat out, no brakes and just waiting for what was to come next. At this point in the meeting I can not recall if my reaction was the cool, calm, James Bond style reaction that we would all like to pull off (not a bead of perspiration or a flush of the cheek, but a witty retort and a well thought out strategy) or was it the sweaty panic of a person seeing their hard earned career potentially heading for the edge of the cliff. As with most situations there is no one definitive truth of what actually happened because each individual present at the time will have their own view. If asked later, irrespective of what actually happened, each person may very likely modify their understanding of how they saw the events to either protect you, or protect themselves, so unless you walk around with a button hole spy camera (maybe I did pull off the James Bond reaction) then you can only take the version that you remember and stick with that. Lets face it, in a very short time it will just be another one of those stories or cautionary tales that are wheeled out principally for entertainment when you have moved on to the next phase of your life ( I wrote the word career before, but have changed my mind due largely to the epilogue).
So the formal proceedings went briskly, a protected conversation ensued, discussions were had and I will spare you the details but ultimately, 6 weeks or so on, I write this from a very different place.
So how does this process feel? Well on the one hand you could say that it feels totally artificial like an out of body experience. In my reality, however, whilst traumatic, it feels totally natural, because it replicates very closely every FFF (fight, flight or freeze) situation I have ever been in . That might sound a little strange bearing in mind the description above but I want to give you this thought, taken in broad terms, from the Chimp Paradox. No matter how unsettling or difficult to deal with this appeared. Once the adrenaline had worn off and I had regained some control over my mind I immediately reverted to something I had read in the book. One of the principle differences between humans and animals is the ability for a human to take a view of themselves from outside (looking down upon your situation, so to speak) and change your mood to one which you prefer. Animals, as I understand from the book, do not, and so whatever their reaction is they have no control over this and must see it through to the conclusion. Whilst jumping from mild panic to ecstasy was potentially a step too far, I started to consider things that I could now achieve that I had previously never considered.
I have spent the best part of 15 years spending only 30-40% of my time at home, my kids have seen me for a limited part of their lives and my wife and I have had a ” pass in the hallway” type relationship. So the first thing I knew I could do was reconnect with them. At the same time my mother’s circumstances have changed dramatically and so I would be able to spend quality time with her. I have another business that I had been neglecting and so again, spend time on this. As this thought process ran through my mind I began to quickly hit upon the common theme; time, and more specifically quality time. Taking my internal conversation further, how do I want to spend my time in the future? Do I want to do another 5 -10 years as above?? and if not this, then what?
In interviews I always used to ask the candidate. ” if you could, irrespective of being sat here for a role at this company, do anything, what would be your dream job” . When I first asked this question I did it predominantly to find out if sales people wanted to remain sales people, or were they really just doing this before a managers role became available. When hiring sales people its important to work out how long they will be motivated in the role before wanting to progress, and this question usually gave me a good feel. What it also now gave me was an understanding that in the vast majority of cases, people’s idea of a dream role, was not F1 driver, astronaut or commander of the free world, but, very achievable jobs, careers or should we say lives, that were not only realistic but in many cases could be considered from the outside as unexceptional. Most recently setting up a dog walking business and opening a cake shop. Neither of which had show stopping aspects. But what may be considered unexceptional to one, is living the dream to another.
Whilst waiting in traffic on the way home, I was now wondering, how would I answer my own question?? As a young adult I had only 2 things I wanted to achieve. I wanted to work for myself and work with my dad, and in both cases I achieved this by the time I was 21. By 28 I realised a number of other things. Sales people, in general, make terrible accountants, consistently spending more than you earn is generally a recipe for disaster ( possibly not in Twitter’s case, but lets see!!) and working with my mom would have been better than my dad, as two salespeople and no accountant was always going to be a disaster.
So what was MY dream job now. What do I love. The answer actually came fairly easily, and as with some of the other candidates it could be considered both doable and potentially mundane. Sales is my passion, and training and coaching sales people for me is the pinnacle of this. So as easily as one career left me, another came to me and I am about to embark on this new journey.
As for the global road warrior, at the moment I am not going global, I am going local (some would say going LOCO, ha ha ) I am almost off the road ( apart from now doing plenty of miles riding my bike) and am taking some time to recharge and relax before launching into my next venture. There are still times when that wave of panic washes over me about what will the future hold, and will I be able to pay the mortgage (many thanks to my previous employer for taking that responsibility away for a good period) but actually that feeling is starting to fade, and the feeling of excitement, optimism and opportunity are burning more brightly.
So to answer my own question….how does it make you feel, my overwhelming answer would be ALIVE!! and that is some thing I havn’t felt for quite a while.
Whilst reviewing this post before publication I attended the funeral of an acquaintance. When together I would consider him a friend, but with many long gaps in seeing each other over 30 years, an acquaintance is more appropriate. He loved life, he was a good person, easily a better man than I and at 48 not around long enough. I spent many New Years Eves with him, the last night out before my wedding and in the early days many Friday nights……you guessed, he ran a pub. The crematorium was packed, the sun shone, the service was uneventful, other than the surprising but very personal song choice of the theme tune to Butterflies, the 70’s TV show. When the final music was played, Light Up by Snow Patrol, my tears began to flow. In sadness, definitely, but more in relief that I had more time. But more time to do what? I’m not quite sure yet, but what that service and Darren’s love for everything he did, made me realise is that I am sure about what I will not be doing with the time afforded to me… No more ticking boxes for boxes sake, no more meetings for meetings sake and no more doing things that really are not delivering anything positive for anyone..I’m not suggesting an epiphany, that’s too dramatic, but it certainly brought clarity…and to my friend, Darren Carney, I will be eternally grateful.
I didn’t want to go back to the pub after the service because it just didn’t feel right. One thing I definitely am going to spend some of my time doing is riding my bike, with my best friend Dan, and at the end of the ride we will go to the Sportsman, and drink a toast, and maybe many toasts and say thank you to Darren for helping me see clearly what I really should have been able to see all along, because in reality, time is LIFE…….now that will be time well spent.