Change Is Going To Come

Quite a while ago now, I read a very interesting book entitled The Mind Gym: Give Me Time. For years I’d been a classic rushaholic, with never enough hours in the day, always too many projects stacked up in front of me and a feeling, not of pleasure at the prospect, but oppressive claustrophobia. It seems obvious to me it’s one of the reasons I ended up with chronic fatigue. Anyhow, the exercise that made quite an impact on me was called Pathfinder, and it suggested you imagine yourself in a year’s time in the life you would like to be living. And you consider it from the following points of view: physical (how you look and feel), mental (learning skills and state of mind), social (friendships), occupational, financial, familial and intimate (close relationships). The book offers a whole series of questions designed to make you think clearly about what you would most like to have happen in those key areas of your life. When I filled it in there was only one answer across the board – I wanted space and I wanted time.

When I filled in this questionnaire, I felt somewhat distressed as I didn’t see then how I could possibly change my life to that extent. It took me months to come around to the idea of implementing real, definitive change, and many more months after that to accept that I could actually alter my life and still, somehow, be myself. The biggest decision I have made, perhaps ever in my life, bigger than getting married, or having a child – both of which were culturally acceptable things to do and so felt like natural progressions rather than decisions – was the choice I made to downsize my job, to give up a flashy position as a lecturer and to enter the far more humble and unobtrusive (and part-time) field of study support. And now I can look at the year I’ve had and remember that questionnaire I answered, and feel sort of astounded at the changes that have come.

I do feel more spacious now, better rested, less hassled and harried all the time. I have a chance to look at myself and see who I am, rather than spend my time constantly trying to whip myself into the right shape for who I thought I ought to be. I’m not always trying to live up to an ideal, and so I have the opportunity just to live, and though this still feels strange and I take that opportunity only tentatively at present, uncertain whether I really am entitled to it, I do feel sure that this is the right way forward. Then, there’s this unwieldy, awkward-shaped thought that I may be able to write. I feel very uncomfortable with romantic notions of writing as something I am utterly compelled to do; it’s not true, although it’s something that comforts me, and really I like better just doing it than reflecting on it. I’m incoherent on this subject: it’s very new, and a treat that I am not sure I have earned, but one that I might just be greedy about anyhow.

But I will also confess that change has odd, unpredictable side effects, too. I don’t feel as intelligent as I used to, when I spent my life in fifth gear, mentally. The title of the book, the mind gym is very appropriate here – I don’t spend my working days in one any more and so am conscious of my brain muscles getting flabby. I’ve relaxed mentally all round, and so my memory is shot to pieces. I used to keep tracks on everything, have tight control over all the details of the lives of family and friends, and I was always ready with the right thing to say in any situation. Not any more, alas. Now I feel I wander round in a daze, information goes in one ear and out the other, I can’t remember my itemized to-do list any more and when I can remember it, I can’t always be bothered to check those items off. It’s certainly a more peaceful way to live, but I am quietly appalled at myself sometimes.

And some things still haven’t changed enough. Last week I had to give a presentation to my colleagues at work on my past year in study support. Because I am not easy to fit into any particular category for round robin emails, I hadn’t actually been told the meeting would be this week until a day or so in advance, when I found out by chance. In the old modus vivendi I would have quickly ordered a tank of vital life force fuel and dropped a burning match into it; that got me through most performative situations. But I can’t do that any more, and I gave a low-key, probably rather dull chat about my work. It’s a difficult situation; my job still represents a territorial threat to many of my colleagues, who fear I am there to point out their shortcomings with the students. I cannot deny that I do hear a great deal about their shortcomings (in some cases) from the students, although I am very good at being confidential for all concerned and quite clear that my mission here is one of diplomacy. Still, I find myself disproportionately upset that one colleague in particular, and someone who used to be a friend, clearly has a particular issue with what I’m doing. He hasn’t replied to any of the emails I’ve sent round over the course of the year, and he was the only person to raise a complaint about my work at the meeting (I happened to see one of his students for a session and he complained he hadn’t known about it). He avoids me carefully but emanates those huffy, hostile vibes that no one, not even people who have recently switched off their most sensitive receptors, can ignore.

Now, I think I make too much fuss if someone doesn’t like me; I’d rather be one of those people who do what they need to do and maintain their own integrity and don’t give a fig for crowd-pleasing compliance. I admire people like that, but I have yet to join their ranks. I did send him an email after the meeting, apologizing and inviting him for tea and a chat. Naturally, he hasn’t replied, which leaves me feeling foolish and awkward, like I conceded a point I could have kept. I’ll keep out of his way from now on, but I’d like to find a good attitude that I can maintain towards the dislike that will inevitably be my lot in this job from time to time. It’s a good piece of growing up, I think, to be able to handle other people’s negativity and not let it get to you. I hope it’s a change that will come my way soon.

15 thoughts on “Change Is Going To Come

  1. What a thoughtful post, Litlove. And so timely for me. I was just thinking about that this morning–the feeling of being crowded in and not having enough time.

    It is hard to keep someone’s negativity from setting you off and I aspire to that, too.

    But what you have done is inspiring, even if it isn’t perfect and you have momentary wistfulness.

    I’m going to think about this–I have tried various ways of getting a better balance and am still wrestling with it.

  2. Well, I can definitely relate to this post, a mere 2 months into my unemployment. Overall, I have been very happy with this new stage in my life, loving the freedom it has given me, and enjoying the fact that I find myself thinking, “Well, if that doesn’t get done today, it just doesn’t get done. Look at this other stuff you did instead,” which never, never happened when I was working. It seems I was always killing myself to get things done and using every second of spare time while trying to impress everyone around me with my brilliant ability (that is not a lifestyle that can easily be sustained without great tolls, in my case, usually in the form of physical ailments). However, there is a part of me that worries every time someone asks the question, “So, you really aren’t looking for a new job?” And I still have fantasies of taking on some position I might hate and doing something spectacular that kills me just to prove to my old company what a HUGE mistake they made in laying off someone as talented as I (cutting off my nose to spite me face). I’m also struggling with not turning writing into a “job.” I want to keep enjoying it as much as I did when I had very little time to do it (I am, however, unlike you, one of those people who is compelled to write. When I’m not actually sitting down with pen and paper or at computer board, I am still writing in my head all the time). I think I need to read The Mind Gym.

  3. I’d love to be one of those people who can handle judgments and negativity from other people, but I’m absolutely not. Well, I will say I have some colleagues who are crazy, more or less, and I don’t mind it if they dislike me. But sane people I really want on my side! But I know it makes no sense to worry about what other people think, so here’s to a thicker skin for both of us! That colleague of yours … well, how utterly ridiculous!!

  4. people always beat themselves up for wanting to be liked, but it seems like a normative human desire. unfortunately, power is another one, and it sounds like this man is asserting power by snubbing you.

  5. I’m not able to turn off my sensitivity receptors, either (big surprise, right?) – I was recently criticized by one (out of dozens) about the work I was doing and i let it ruin the better part of a weekend. I think the best thing we can do is engage in our jobs in a way that doesn’t take over our lives, and simply try and do the best, most honest job possible and return home knowing we did so. There are a lot of bullies out there whose entire senses of self are wrapped up on their job and they will try to bring others down so they can feel better about themselves – my new approach is to absolutely kill with kindness – so I think your tea invitation was a good one and you shouldn’t feel foolish. We take the high road not to be rewarded by doing so but so we can live with ourselves…

  6. Now you know it’s no good
    Sweating that blood
    And the stains are so hard to remove
    And set aside that sad male
    Whose courtesy has gone stale
    And share virtual tea with me.

    Sorry, silly mood, but message stands!

  7. Change takes courage, so I applaud you for having the courage to make big changes in your life. Bravo also for not getting yourself all worked up for that presentation–you probably saved yourself a lot of grief, and your low-key presentation was probably better than most. Also, I wish I could turn off my sensitivity receptors, too. I think you did the right thing taking the high road and asking that grumpy colleague to tea. I believe you actually kept the point!

  8. I think I can understand and sympathise with you in your job. I had a job where there the decisions I made always upset one or more people – I investigated claims for public rights of way so one side always didn’t get what they wanted! I found it very difficult when took it so personally and thought I was against them. I wasn’t – I had to be objective but they couldn’t see that. One man phoned me on a Monday morning, obviously he’d been building up his anger against me all weekend and told me he didn’t know how I could sleep at nights and one woman told a colleague that she would rather wash toilets than do our jobs. It did upset me when someone told me to wipe that smile off my face, when I was talking to her – I couldn’t do right whatever I did. I tried to forget it, but now I’ve written this I can see that I haven’t – it is upsetting when people don’t like you.

  9. Betty and Boo’s mommy – that’s so nice of you to drop by! And I am so glad to be keeping such good emotional company.🙂

    Lilian – that search for balance must be a lifelong one, I think. I couldn’t have had less balance, so getting more has felt fantastic, but I don’t feel I’ve quite got to the place I want to be just yet. I’ve made physical changes to my life, but I do need a bit of a mindset alteration still. And your girls are still so young – I remember my son being that age and I was still such a full-time mum at that point. Their demands get much easier over the next five years, and that helps no end.

    Emily – it is so hard to act, and not just react, isn’t it? I feel the loss of status sometimes, and then I do look around at all that I’ve gained, in terms of opportunities and energy and freshness. Just doing something new is so liberating. Most of all, I feel I don’t want to give in to other people’s image of me – integrity is my favourite word of late! But I can certainly recommend The Mind Gym. So many of these sorts of books aren’t awfully useful, but that book was just great.

    Dorothy – I can’t be doing anything too wrong, if you’re in the same camp! Thank you for the solidarity, and I did laugh when you spoke about the mad colleagues. I know exactly what you mean. But a thicker skin is exactly what I need. Here’s to growing one together!

    Emily – yes, you’re quite right that this snubbing thing is his way to keep his high ground. I just hate people playing games with me. Say it to my face, and then I can respond properly. But if he can’t do that, probably means he has nothing sensible to say, right?

    Courtney – quite right! My own conscience is clear, in any case. I feel better thinking some of my dear blog friends have similar difficulties. It’s exactly the same for me – one person makes far too much difference. I ought to be relieved it seems to be only one at the moment!🙂

    Bookboxed – lol! How lovely, and virtual tea with you would be MUCH nicer, thank you!

    Gentle reader – what a lovely, encouraging message from you – thank you! I shouldn’t judge academics by the standards of ordinary people, they really are every bit as eccentric as novels make out!🙂 And I felt terrified of changing things before I did it, and then afterwards, it was such a relief I didn’t know why I hadn’t done it before…

    Booksplease – oh what a difficult situation you must have been in so many times, and I can imagine that the great British public didn’t make it any easier. People do love to shoot messengers and get their retaliation in first (one of my father’s favourite sayings!). Some of my colleagues don’t like having their students sent to me because they think it reflects on their teaching. However, the colleagues I’ve worked with most this year have sent students to me themselves (not via the nurse or the tutor) and worked with me to give them the right support. So it’s all in the attitude, as ever, although that’s the hardest thing to change. Thank you for the sympathy and support – it’s much appreciated!

  10. I think the need for affirmation and approval is inherent, and much more pervasive among women (sad to say). It’s the major reason I’m often completely overwhelmed by my work and my life -I’m always seeking everyone’s approval so I glibly say “yes” to all their requests, often to the detriment of my own needs.

    You point out an intereting Catch-22, though, in feeling that your mental abilities have gone “flabby” since you’ve downsized your job responsibilities. While I often feel as if I’m doing far too much and haven’t enough breathing space, when I do manage to cut back, I find myself bored and listless. I’m just not able to find the proper balance. Maybe someday! At least it’s good to know I’m not the only one🙂

  11. Becca – I’m enjoying the solidarity very much, too! This desire to be approved of is such a nuisance, and I am a terrible ‘yes’-sayer, too. Although, now the one thing I don’t say yes to is friends and social engagements, and that doesn’t make me popular, either! I have complete sympathy for what you say about feeling bored when not frantic. I still keep looking around me, wondering what I haven’t done because there HAS to be something (actually, all too often, there still is something!). I went back to graduate studies, years ago, because I didn’t want to get mentally flabby, so I’ll have to think of gentle ways I can work on that.🙂

  12. What a wonderful post Litlove! Change is hard especially if it is significant change. You don’t need thicker skin, just a force field or something that you can turn on and off. Imagine yourself as the Star Trek Enterpise and when people get negative or mean the little Captain Kirk in your head can yell, “shields up!” But if you hear Scotty start yelling, “I canna hold her much longer Cap’n!” then it’s time to retreat at warp speed🙂

  13. Change is hard, but it is often good. Personally, I think that being on top of everything is over-rated. I read an article about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that indicated that sufferers need to rest. Really. And the syndrome seems to become a syndrome when the owner of the body has ignored that imperative for so long that the system breaks down to an extent that forces them to pay attention. So your change probably has helped your CF.

    I am one of those who reacts badly to negative remarks, I take them way to heart and brood over them far too long. Perhaps this is a change I can work on.

    Enjoyed your post, as always.

  14. I hate to say this about a university lecturer, but your colleague sounds a little bit immature. It just seems he should be acting a bit more professional, but the real world certainly doesn’t always work that way. I don’t understand people like that–especially when you went out of your way to offer the olive branch, so to speak. However, I would feel very much like you do–I shouldn’t care whether people like me or not, but I do. It sounds like you have to be very diplomatic in your position, and I can’t imagine you ever not being entirely so. My life is nowhere as busy as yours, but I am constantly feeling as though I am not in control and can’t keep up, but that I should still be doing more! Kudos to you to trying to find the right balance–now to just not feel guilty about it!

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