I won’t lie, I’ve been wracked with fear the last few weeks – to the point of total inertia. ‘Nothing odd about that’ I hear you cry, ‘we are all in the same fear boat now’.
Well yes, we are (except for the shining stars who haven’t got stuck in the headlights) and it’s a strange feeling, but in other ways we are also rowing our own, unique and stormy fears.
As I’ve sat in front of my computer in the middle of the night, wishing that the kettle would boil more quietly and worrying about when the money will run out and if my very aged and isolated Mum is ok and if my necessary trips out to volunteer and shop for food are putting my family at higher risk, and if my wife will run out of tolerance for me and if my children are going to be able to sustain their thirst for learning until school goes back, I’ve also found time to be fearful about whether I’ll ever get Marmite again – or petrol for the lawnmower – and what, if anything, I can do about the future.
The big fears seem to have merged with the small inconsequential fears to become one mass of constant anxiety and even as I count my blessings that at least I have a family to be fearful for and a lawn to mow, I’m wrestling with some even bigger fears. And, like everything else, my anxiety has gone from crisis mode to a really uncomfortable realisation that I’m now used to it – its become my new, hopefully interim, normal.
The problem, and my biggest personal fear, has been that I am a born optimist and a self created strategist. I can’t help either of these things and I never used to be fearful of them, in fact they have sustained me through some really bad times and, until recently, I thought both were good and true and necessary. But I recognised pretty early on in this shitty mess that neither of these two natural character traits were going to be exactly welcomed for a while.
I’m used to being an outlier, a maverick, and I’m used to pushback on my thoughts and ideas about change, but I’ve always found a way through, a minority audience, forward thinking clients. But now, who wants to think about strategy and the future when they are dealing with business and societal and personal meltdown NOW? Who needs anyone saying that this could be the moment to seriously embark on oft spoken about, profound and necessary change, when no-one has yet made sense of the upheaval to their own here and now? Right?
So, I shut up. I rapidly shrank back from saying or writing anything and I watched my self-confidence (which is always shaky) disintegrate faster than my income. I became fearful that I would just be another voice in the dark, someone jumping on the bandwagon of all this, part of the problem on LinkedIn and everywhere else that ‘experts’ roam with inexpert abandon. I even engaged in a bit of social media distancing because it all became too toxic and was maybe another reminder that while everyone else was talking, I lacked the courage to say anything meaningful – or anything at all. So, then I had massive fear and anxiety overlaid with a crushing loss of self confidence – great, what a basket case, how stupidly impotent.
I even started to read things that I’ve written over the years in a forlorn attempt to bolster my flagging sense of self, to remind myself that I had once been valid. That was no help at all because, with a rush of grandeur and bravado, I first thought ‘wow, some of this shit is actually important and prescient’, then I moved into whiney ‘why doesn’t anyone take me seriously’ mode, then into angry ‘screw them’ mode and finally arrived at ‘it’s all pointless – I’m pointless’ defeated mode. Self-flagellation par excellence.
The good news, for me at least, in this tale of narcissistic woe, is that I am bouncing back.
Maybe it’s that I cannot tolerate myself like this. Maybe it’s because my family can’t. Or maybe its because I have had enough trusted comrades telling me that I need to snap out of all this and get writing because, rightly or wrongly, they believe what I haven’t – that I have things worth saying.
Maybe it’s because I am now getting really frustrated by so many people saying they ‘can’t wait to get back to normal’. It’s not the word ‘normal’ that I struggle with, it’s the word ‘back’ because, and here’s a thing, it really wasn’t normal back then either.
Maybe frustration is spilling over into anger about how so many people want to return to a steady state that really wasn’t that steady anyway. Maybe I’m now seeing so much that could be really brilliant for the future if only we have the individual and collective bravery to embark on it all. And by ‘it’ I mean change – the c-word that c-suites and others in ‘authority’ really hate but that deep down, they know is now essential.
Maybe my previous fears have been usurped by an even bigger one – that we will miss out on massive opportunities within ourselves, our businesses, our organisations, our communities and wider society to use this time wisely to come up with better answers to previous problems – known and unknown.
Maybe my biggest fear of all is that we will live to regret the fact that we didn’t grab by the bollocks the chances presented by this to actually do something worthwhile. Something that makes the pain and misery and anxiety and fear worth it. Something that prevents past and present problems from becoming future problems. We would be criminally negligent if we passed this opportunity by.
Maybe now, in the middle of all the fear and dread, is exactly the right time to be an active optimist (rather than the flimsy, wishful thinking sort), to be brave and to actually do something new, something lasting and something profound.
There are so many indications from people and organisations that have started to address the elephants in the room that some have been highlighting for some time, that I have started to become optimistic again.
Maybe now is the right time to look at our own future conduct and to define something that has become a very dirty word in the recent past but that I want to help make clean again – for the right reasons and in the right ways. Maybe now is the time to re-imagine our own sense of (sorry, but I have to say it) purpose and to create meaningful change (even though this is hard) that, when we look back on all this, we can be proud of.
Step one in trying to overcome my fears and self doubt, has been to yield to these, then get creative and write. These are things that used to come naturally but, of late, have deserted me completely – well boo-bloody-hoo.
Step two will be to publish some thoughts over the next few days on necessary change, bravery, the crisis of the heart and soul of our society (big and small), ideas on what we could do about it all – as individuals, leaders, interconnected businesses and organisations, communities and wider society; and a specific piece about my own patch – Oxfordshire. I don’t claim to have answers but I do have a ton of questions and ideas.
Step Three will be to talk – and more importantly – listen. This scares the shit out of me but my good friend Richard Rosser has kindly invited me to let loose on B4LIVE and BIO2020, so we will see what happens.
This is all pretty terrifying but I would sooner live with fear now so that I can look back in years to come without regret. I have enough of that already. I hope you don’t and never will.