Those rocks are smaller than you think

Those rocks are smaller than you think

Coming to the end of The Obstacle is the Way I was surprised when the author announced that I was now a philosopher in Stoicism. Although the title of the book is perhaps an obvious clue as to what follows, I hadn’t framed my approach this way. But I found much of the book confirmatory of the usefulness of the concepts of stoicism – especially in a world of disruption (i.e. always!).

The challenging client? Covid anxiety? A war? The intractable work issue? Passive behaviour that feels aggressive? Too many life admins outstanding? All of the above all at once? I try to monitor and notice my own reactions to life’s obstacles – does my heart rate increase, am I irritable, do I start doing detailed work and planning? To notice is to be present in the here and now.

I remember many moons ago working in the Auckland Central police watchhouse – where people who had been arrested were “processed” – until they were bailed or taken to court. As you might imagine, not all customers were particularly happy – many drunk, aggressive and abusive. But you had to search, photograph and fingerprint them, whether they liked it or not. In some respects, achieving the outcomes required behaviour that was the antithesis of the macho, forceful imagine of a uniform cop tackling an alcohol-infused melee. It required the ability to depersonalise the anger directed at you. It’s surprisingly difficult to fingerprint someone – hold their fingers over an inkpad, and roll each finger on the paper – all ten of them – if they don’t want it! I must have achieved a modicum of success as the senior sergeant asked me to stay on for a second six month tour because he said, I had the temperament. I declined, patrols were far more exciting.

But it must have been part of my journey of stoicism, which has really come to the fore these last couple of years, although I’ve never really framed it for myself that way. Perception, Action and Will make up the three disciplines of this book and underpinning it is turning every obstacle into an advantage. In business we might say “turning lemon into lemonade”, or “pivoting now”, but what we’re doing is turning the challenge, the obstacle or disadvantage into an opportunity.

Put another way, declining to be a victim despite the circumstances of apparent unfairness, avoiding catastrophising a situation – living in the present – the book says that unfortunately “We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, whats “behind” this or that..”. Actually most of the time when something isn’t going our way, the person, or people that might be the perceived cause, are more than likely not particularly interested in us. Sad, but good too! It can put perspective into our lives.

Been “disrespected” at work? Who hasn’t been? (who hasn’t done it too?). Was the other person acting with intention? Possibly, but more than likely it was just a moment. So don’t worry. Feed off what they said and come back more powerful appearing more considered and patient as a result.

It’s a perfect day for stoicism. Rain is here after what feels like months of fine weather (unconscious bias of course – there’s been some!), and it’s got that cosy, rain on the roof feeling.

An opportunity to catch up on life admin, and even restart a blog!

Stephen

Headline Photograph: Stonehenge from a visit in 2015. The rocks were quite a bit smaller than I had imagined.

It’s in your head

It’s in your head

I’ve been grappling a bit over the last couple of years with resilience – the concepts more than the actual thing (I think!). People talk of building it up, focussing on your wellbeing to make sure you are resilient, especially during this Covid era when uncertainty about work, health, travel, whanau is ever present. It’ll be coming up four years soon since I saw my eldest son, now settled in Ireland with children of his own, one I’ve not seen in person. There are thousands of similar, and far more challenging situations for many Kiwis. I’m thinking especially those who have lost their employment or had their earnings restricted from business, or who haven’t been able to say farewell to loved ones who have died. It’s tough. And resilience is needed.

I was out at my little piece of paradise this long Waitangi weekend, doing some cleaning up, after a big clean up – moving bits of old metal, some electric power line fittings – trees in pots that had fallen over and so on. I’ve been very cautious – one of my legs is not what it used to be and I’ve been looking after my resilience by protecting it, having others to do the hard graft, leaving me for such strenuous activities as watering and fetching cold drinks from the fridge in the container (should you leave it on? – I hope it’s alright!).

Something switched – maybe I suddenly reached a tipping point and got tougher, but I grabbed all the old metal, electrical fittings and some bits of timber and lugged them up the hill to the bin. Cripes it felt good. Then I did it again. Then I moved the plants back upright. Then I attacked the door to the bore shed that’s been jamming – fixed that.

I’m certain it wasn’t all in my head, I have been weaker, but it had got in my head and now it’s out and I’m free and strong to do what I can. Well that’s what it feels like – probably won’t make the Olympic team quite yet, but you get the drift!

Mount Taranaki

In The Mental Toughness Handbook by Damon Zahariades he separates resilience from mental toughness. He says Resilience:

“is the ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications. It’s the ability to adapt. For example, suppose you leave your home at a normal time en route to your workplace. Unfortunately, you run into expectedly heavy traffic on the freeway. This setback is sure to make you late for a meeting scheduled that morning.
A resilient person might grit his teeth and curse under his breath, but he’d ultimately adapt to this circumstance. He might seek a different route to his workplace, using his phone’s GPS feature. Or he may call his office and reschedule the meeting. Or he might compose an explanation for his tardiness that allows him to avoid others’ disapproval.

Mental toughness is a mindset. It not only reflects our ability to bounce back from unforeseen complications, but also demonstrates a positive outlook during the experience. It’s not just the ability to handle stressful situations. It reflects how we handle them. For example, a mentally tough person caught in unexpectedly heavy traffic might take the opportunity to listen to an inspiring audiobook. In fact, she might be pleased with her circumstance because it gives her the opportunity.”

Obviously there’s more to it in the book than I can relay here, but think about the times when things go wrong – do you see it as an opportunity? Or do you try and make sure the tracks are covered?

I’m not advocating pulling yourself up by the bootstrings necessarily but there is something to be said for thinking of the opportunity. But it’s tough. Mentally tough, but it might just be in your head as to which way you choose.

Resilience vs Mental Toughness. Subtly different.

Stephen

Day 628

Day 628

A team member said the other day that we know how long we’d been in lockdown because my blog posts have a running tally. Well they did during the first lockdown in 2020 and the last time I totalled it was 19 August when it was 510 days since the start of the first lockdown. If you’re interested it’s 628 days today. And if you live to the average age of a Kiwi that’s over two percent of your life since we started this lockdown and restriction journey. So what?

Well whatever happens, I’m well past the waiting for life to return to how it was – there is no return – this is it. Get on with it. Which means getting vaccinated, including a booster soon, embracing how we work, which for the knowledge worker, will have some level of flexibility. A combination of in the office, working at home, working away from home (if you’re fortunate enough to have other options), and working when it suits. And it means not bothering if you can’t do one or the other, just working how you can, or as the case may be, how you have to.

Going back to the office for the last week felt like light relief – I counted only six people on my “home floor” of level 29 on Monday – so it was very light. In fairness Monday was not of my business unit’s “designated days” as was prescribed at the commencement of the week – soon gone with new government rules – but it quickly swelled by Thursday to feel a bit more challenging to find a space. There was lots of “isn’t it great to be back in the office” and “so pleased to be out of the house“. I’m not sure what to make of this yet – will this be the refrain on 17 January when we start back after the holidays?!

There’s a switch taking place – people are tired from lockdown work – I’m tired from staring at the screen too much, but I don’t think we will, or will even want to, go back to “9-5” in the office five days a week. Of course the switch started long before Covid-19, but it’s accelerated beyond all the change plans, carefully thought through, could have anticipated. When I look back at our flexible working plans before “Day 1”, an educated guess might be that it would have been at least 2025 before we got to where we are now.

The future of motoring has arrived – here’s a fully electric Polestar 2 EV

So, the future may have arrived. For once! All my life I’ve looked forward to the future and when it’s arrived, most of the time it was so gradual I never noticed it. Even the internet seemed cautious, transitional, and obvious, when it arrived. And we’re still waiting on flying cars (they were supposed to be here long ago!), and robots are generally confined to places where we don’t see them (I hope).

On reflection, my counting the days of the lockdown was partly to tick off the days before we got out of it. “It” turned out to be the switch to flexibility we had been seeking. Although it was for reasons we wouldn’t wish for, we can look at the day numbers now and say with some degree of confidence that it’s day 628 since the future of flexible working arrived for certain.

Stephen

p.s EVs and space tourism are here too – my paternal grandmother was born this day in 1902, in Lilydale, Tasmania. I wonder what she would make of all of this – having lived through the Spanish Flu and two world wars? I reckon she’d take it in her stride with a chuckle and be grateful at least something was happening! And she’d be up for an EV and a trip to space for certain. She loved an adventure.

True music for a lockdown

True music for a lockdown

We’re into week ten and pandemic news, stories and feelings keep rolling on. There’s history now – I find myself saying remember what we did in the first lockdown, and television programmes with references – do you remember during the lockdown when we…… (from The Pact of Silence filmed in Wales during Lockdown). The roads are busier now, much busier than the first level 3 which felt tentative – are we allowed to do this? – replaced by traffic jams at Kumeu where surfers heading to Muriwai mix it with locals, tradies and families meeting for picnics (well that’s what to say if asked!).

Winter starts slowly, teasing, is it the one we know, you know the old bank advert? – just like the start of this lockdown – there’s been one case, could it grow, more news, a press conference – the orchestra winds up and Vroom!, it’s here, full lockdown and Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in F Minor Winter from the Four Seasons is away. It feels just right as my go-to classical music this lockdown, even though Winter moved to Spring and it’ll be Summer before we’re out. Somewhere in Spotify, you can find out how many times you’ve listened to a track, but it’s got to be dozens, several times every day sometimes. A quiet moment before a video call, some actual work to be done and it’s on again.

A challenger arrived soon after lockdown – maybe before we were at level 3 – True – Spandau Ballet’s biggest hit, from the album of the same name in 1983. Released a month before I moved to Auckland and where I’ve been ever since. You know when sometimes you just can’t stop listening to a track – this is it for me – I’m addicted. Spotify says it’s had nearly 300 million listens – I feel like I’m a million of them.

But I’d like to leave Auckland – well not for good – but sometime soon to go to Queenstown, and to Christchurch to see Mum and Dad. Auckland’s doing it’s bit with over 90% of first vaccinations and we’re hopeful that we’ll get to 90% double jabbed by Christmas. Then we’re on the Traffic Lights, but they’re on red at the border until everyone else is 90% too. Come on Reefton! Step up, I want to see the folks! Even if you think we deserve to be stranded here for being Jafas, this is something we’re doing for all of us and it’s really easy and can only do good.

I’m still walking – every day without fail – sometimes twice, and we ran a 10,000 a day challenge at PwC recently which was a great team booster. Some of my team did their steps during meetings, and I still find myself checking the daily tally to see how I’m going.

I figure I might as well enjoy lockdown – that’s not to say it’s easy for many people – but I’m not staying miserable for months at a time. I figure that I can do my bit, encourage others to get vaccinated, walk, work (yep, I’m fortunate, very), music, and dream of a time when we’re out of Lockdown and reminiscing about all the good things we did during Lockdown. Like learning about living in the moment and the lack of pressure to go anywhere. Some days I quite like it.

True.

Stephen

For trustworthy information on New Zealand’s Covid-19 Vaccination check out the Ministry of Health site.