Busyness

In 2012, I wrote a post about the Fake Fine. That Fine that people default to when they don’t really talk about how they are, or when they assume that your “how are you?” is not a genuine question. The Fine that is the automatic response to test how interested someone is in the real response.

But recently, I’ve noticed a new word creeping in.

Busy.

Q: How are you?

A: Busy. 

It’s the new default. The new fine.

It bothers me, because it’s almost become a badge of honour. As though there’s a competition to be the most busy. Because busy means successful. Important. In demand. And it’s not just at work. When did we all get into a competition to be the most busy?

So I’m trying not to use it. And I’m trying to ask others more, pushing past the busy.

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free …

I’ve read a little bit about One Little Word this year and it came to mind as I sat with friends just after midnight on New Year’s Day.

What shall we pray for the new year? What’s the one thing you’d like to see happen? Or the one circumstance you want to see change?

What’s the one little word that I want to sum up my year?

freedom

There are things I would like to have freedom from and things I would like to have freedom to do but either way it’s freedom that sums it up. For me, I think it’s going to mean a new openness, a sense of stepping out, the courage that is needed to do that, a new beginning where old things no longer hold me back, where I refuse to let myself be hemmed in by others’ expectations of me, or even hemmed in by my own expectations of myself. It’s not recklessness, carelessness or disregard for others – it’s just freedom.

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Looking back

It’s odd how re-reading something that was written at a time of high emotion can bring things flooding back. I think one of the dangers of electronic storage is that things are kept for far longer than they might otherwise have been.

I had a boyfriend when I was 16/17 and we wrote letters to each other. He lived in Norfolk, I was in London and we used to write long letters to each other (usually when we were in classes under the guise of taking copious notes …) After we broke up, I kept them for a while but eventually chucked them. Who needs pages and pages of soppy teen angst?

With boyfriends in Durham, there was less need for letter-writing although I have a few cards and short letters from holidays, but not much. 

But then there are the emails. Something of a rabbit hole that I probably should avoid at all costs. Because whilst there are some comedy did-I-really-say-that emails there are also the ones that are full of emotions (good and bad) and reading them brings it all flooding back.

But there is catharsis in it. Because the pain will never be as bad as it was at the time. And remembering how bad it was at the time reminds you of the fact that you don’t feel that way anymore. That God has brought you through even if the route and the timing was completely different to your expectations.

A lot seems to have happened in the last few years.

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Make it count

I’ve been trying to write a post about time for a while now. It’s taken me about an hour and I’ve just deleted it all to start again. Thereby probably illustrating the point I was trying to make. 

My point – simplistically – is that whilst my contracted work hours make up around 20 per cent of my week, there’s an additional 10 per cent or so that is geared around work. I’ve been thinking about this today because I’ve been working from home and – without the need for proper work clothes/make-up/tidy hair or travelling to and from the office – I’ve been amazed with how much I’ve managed to get done.

The 10 per cent is made up of travel, lunch hours, extra bits of work and odd bits of time that sneak in around the edges. It’s not work but it’s about work and I just wonder if there’s a way that I can use it more productively. So that it doesn’t feel like work but feels more like my own time. So many people seem to struggle with not having enough time, but surely it’s more a case of how we use the time that we do have? How do we make it count?

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Where do I go from here?

This week I have been reflecting on my own strengths and weaknesses. It’s been a bit of a struggle. I’m involved in a development programme at work and we had a group session on Monday and I decided to ask about development objectives.

I’ve been on this programme for about a year now and I don’t really have a development objective and it struck me that this is possibly a bit of an issue …

How can I take steps to develop if I don’t know where I’m trying to get to?

I then had a meeting with my mentor on Wednesday and she’s given me some resources – concept formation and integrated thinking levels one to five, constructive and destructive behaviours, introvert/extrovert, perceiving/judging – who on earth am I anyway?

So this was all running around in my head this morning as I sat on the train and opened my kindle!Bible. Psalm 84. I got distracted during the first verses, staring out of the window trying to work out my key strengths and weaknesses. Do I really do that? Is that really my primary focus? What is my main motivation? How do I even begin to work this out?

My kindle flicked to screensaver and reminded me that the Psalm has more than three verses. Read on …

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion
(Psalm 84:5-7)

Constructive behaviours are those that not only enable you to be fully effective but also create an environment in which others can be fully effective. It’s about facilitating organisational effectiveness rather than merely personal effectiveness.

I don’t know much about the Valley of Baca, but I think it’s significant that those walking through ‘make it a place of springs’ [emphasis mine]. It was not a place of springs before they walked through. I have a picture of a foot, stepping on soft ground, creating an imprint from which water gushes up. Creating a space for growth and abundance. Is that not an illustration of constructive behaviours?

They go from strength to strength …

A psalm about personal development? A psalm about leadership?

Walking from the station into the office, my mp3 player starts playing All I Need is You and I feel like a burden is being lifted from my shoulders. I have strengths, I have weaknesses, I have destructive behaviours as well as (I hope) some constructive ones. I want to get to the stage where my presence, my imprint, creates space for growth and effectiveness rather than shutting it down. But this isn’t about me. It’s not about what I can do. I am not directing my own steps, or planning my own steps.

This is about the path that God wants me to walk. I believe that He’s affirming where I am and what I’m trying to do, but is also reminding me gently that He called me into this environment and He is the one transforming me. He is my key strength and without Him, I am nothing but weakness.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you …

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Changes

How have I changed?

Next Monday, I’m going to a training course. We’re going to start with each person doing a ‘three minute input’ (note: not a presentation, an ‘input’) on how we’ve changed over the course of our development programme so far. We’ve been told to prepare our ‘input’ in advance.

I have no idea what to do with this instruction.

From comparing notes with others, nobody else does either, so we have defaulted to mockery.

I’m going to do a Rolf Harris style charades thing – can you see what it is yet?

I think I’ll do a chart, of where I am and how far I’ve come …

I might express myself through the means of interpretive dance – or origami.

I was thinking of playing a piece of relaxing music and saying that I’ve learnt that it’s important to relax. I know, why don’t I play a piece of relaxing music, you can do your interpretive dance and then we can also make a point about the importance of teamwork and collaboration …

The first two might actually happen, the latter probably not.

Aside from presentation though, I don’t really know what to say. I have changed in the last year, I know I have. But most of it is nothing to do with work. And hardly any of it is specifically due to the development programme. It’s not been irrelevant, but I still kind of feel that I wasn’t quite ready for it.

I still don’t quite feel ready for it. It’s just too much too fast. And I think this summer’s meltdown was part of that. I can’t do this.

I can’t do this on my own.

Because one thing I have learnt this year is the importance of relationships. Real relationships. Not acquaintances or networks or beer buddies. But relationships where you can drop all pretence, ask the real questions and live life together, however messy it gets. It’s often easier to have this sort of relationship with people outside of work. It feels safer somehow. But this year, I’ve crossed boundaries and had more open relationships with people at work.

I’ve had to. Because when you can’t prevent yourself crying in the office, people want to know why. And once you’ve started crying, you may as well be honest.

Does that count as a change? That I’m trying to be more open. That I recognise that if I want the rest of my team to be open with me, I need to model it myself?

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Questions and more questions

Love a horse and talk to plumbers. Ask questions of everybody and don’t hide your ignorance, for ignorance is simply the unlit side of curiosity and the outside of the door to wisdom and knowledge. Be a limitless person to others and maybe you will stretch them more than your art does. Let’s hope.
— Harold Best’s letter to artists

I read this quote last week and it has swiftly made its way onto my desktop at work. I don’t quite know what the horses and plumbers bit means and as I rarely encounter either in my daily life, I think I’ll just have to park that instruction for now. It’s the rest of the quote that gives me pause for thought “… ignorance is simply the unlit side of curiosity and the outside of the door to wisdom and knowledge …

When I became a Christian, I was forced to confront the fact that I didn’t know anything. Maybe for most 15-year-olds this wouldn’t have been a startling or particularly troubling revelation but for me it was.

But it was also liberating.

Going through secondary school, I was a little socially awkward. But I was so responsible, I always did my homework, I generally knew what we were supposed to know. So people would come to me for help. Initially just for help, but gradually to copy. There’d be times when I’d get to lunchtime and the only conversations I’d have had with my classmates would be them asking to copy my homework.

Before long, my identity, my sense of self and my value got completely caught up in my ability to do the homework and know the answers. So joining a church youth group, where everyone else had 15 years of Sunday school and Bible reading and Christian parents, was a bit of a shock to the system.

But it gave me the freedom Not To Know. The freedom to be ignorant and to ask questions.

It shook my sense of identity but unpicked my perceptions about identity and self. I learnt to define myself and my worth in a completely new way. I’ve actually got quite good at asking questions and it’s now something that I use as much as I can at work and in friendships. Asking questions has deepened relationships, given someone the confidence that they do know the answer and changed the course of a study.

But most of all, asking questions reminds me that sometimes a question can be as valuable and have as great an impact as the wisest of answers.

And that I don’t know everything.

Like I said, it was liberating.

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