Posted on January 17, 2019
This blog comes from a very strange inception. I was running on my treadmill the other evening and had left the room light off, as it was still quite light when I started the session. As the sun dipped, the room gradually darkened and the light through the doorway behind me cast a shadow on to the wall in front of me.
It struck me that while I was running at a decent pace, sweating profusely, concentrating on my breathing remaining even and steady, ensuring I was planting my feet neutrally as possible to avoid heel strike and trying to maintain level of effort, my shadow seemed to be having quite an easy time of it. My shadow looked as if it was out for a steady, mid-pace jog and it did not represent the level of effort I was putting into the training session.
It struck me afterwards that this is something of a metaphor for life – I know, a bit profound and “new-agey” but bear with me.
Of late, I have had the honour to be involved in some bid work to get funding for Armed Forces Mental Health support and Crisis Management. In speaking to people from all walks that suffer from mental health issues, there is a common theme they share: that is, people do not recognise what they are going through. As the recent messaging around mental health says, “not all injuries are visible”. People suffer on the inside and struggle on a day to day basis but there is no external, physical manifestation, and while the internal battle rages, people viewing them externally nothing out of the ordinary. I see this as “casting a shadow” that is finding life easy and not struggling in the way we feel we are.
Further, I watch people close to me working incredibly hard in their workplace. They pack their bags, load the car, head home, unpack and carry on for another few hours to ensure that they stay on top of their substantial work load. As a member of the senior Management Team, this “casts a shadow” that makes it look like they are managing easily the incredible workload. It looks like they are one of the few that has the ability to get through a work load in the working day and could therefore be open to having tasks to work on extra-curricularly. This manifests as resentment when more tasks are received and the working day extends a little bit further – It is true that managers always give the piece of work to the busiest person. Perhaps because that person is “casting the shadow”.
In either scenario – and I don’t doubt that my extended readership could find more scenarios – there needs to be some way of ensuring that the shadow starts to represent the true level of suffering or the true level effort being applied to the working day. We are talking about sustainability in both cases.
Communicating it in an appropriate way is important: Share with friends, or even trusted strangers the struggle you have each day and seek out like-minded people; talk to people who are constantly demanding of your work time and share the work load that you have and inform them of where they sit in your prioritisation such that their expectations on response time are managed, or, indeed, whether or not you feel you have the capacity to fulfil on the request.
Communicating our situation and current status to friends, family and colleagues is essential to remaining at a level of sustainability. Not doing so can cause catastrophic issues where they might not be life threatening, but prospectively damaging to career, perception, or promotion prospects.
Communication helps in two ways. Firstly, you verbalise how you are feeling, which enables you to identify and confirm but also strengthen through the sharing of it, and secondly, you share with people that are expecting you to be performing at a higher level. In return they give you some understanding and some latitude and more importantly, support.
I think, as a community, especially in the current social climate, that we find it hard to share what we see in ourselves as a weakness, but in reality, facing it, communicating it, and dealing with it is a far healthier option to the alternative.
Check your shadow and see if you need to communicate that it does not truly reflect how you are feeling and dealing.